How To Find ‘Change Leaders’ In Your Company

by CXOtoday News Desk    Mar 12, 2014


Business organizations undergoing major transformation often use various tools to involve their employees — motivating emails, emotional CEO speeches, power point presentations or focused change management workshops. But more often than not, these initiatives fail to make the desired impact on people’s mind. McKinsey experts Lili Duan, Emily Sheeren, and Leigh M. Weiss suggest that organizations must tap the power of ‘hidden influencers’ or informal change leaders to drive any big change across the board.

According to them, winning over skeptical employees and convincing them of the need to change often proves to be the biggest roadblock. “Employee resistance is the most common reason executives cite for the failure of big organizational-change efforts,” they say. Companies can, however, increase their chances of success by involving some hidden influencers who can act as champions of the change.

“Senior executives can encourage such influencers to help communicate necessary changes, convince skeptical employees of the need for change, or, best of all, do these things as active architects of the program,” explain the McKinsey experts in their article. “Indeed, the most powerful way to use hidden influencers is to bring them into such efforts in the earliest stages and to get their input and guidance on planning and direction—as well as help with execution. Changes made with the support of these influential employees are vastly more likely to succeed in the long run than changes delivered from on high.”

So, how can organizations identify these change leaders? How can they harness their energy, creativity, and goodwill—and thereby increase the odds of success?

Duan, Sheeren, and Weiss suggest that companies can use “snowball sampling,” a simple survey technique used originally by social scientists to study street gangs, drug users, and sex workers—hidden populations reluctant to participate in formal research. These brief surveys (two to three minutes) ask recipients to identify acquaintances who should also be asked to participate in the research. Thus, one name or group of names quickly snowballs into more, and trust is maintained.

In a business context, companies can identify these names through email surveys with questions like: “Who do you see as a trusted advisor in the company?” or “Whose help do you generally seek when you have trouble at work”

“Informal influencers exist in every organization, across industries, cultures, and geographies. They are, simply put, people other employees look to for input, advice, or ideas about what’s really happening in a company. They therefore have an outsized influence on what employees believe about the future, as well as on morale, how hard people work, and their willingness to support—or resist—change,” says the McKinsey team.