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Using Influencers to Drive Your Learning Strategy


Whether it’s a Kardashian, sports star, or a travel connoisseur, influencers have become more and more visible in the last few years, even if you are not looking for them intentionally. They have some of the most visually appealing photos or videos depicting a version of their life that appears so ideal that we can’t help, if even for a moment, having a little pang of envy. After all, that’s their job—to sell us on an idea, a lifestyle, or a product. Being an influencer has become a common sought-after job to which many aspire, but influencers are not for social media alone. We can identify influencers throughout our organizations and engage them to help us drive intentional change and further a preferred strategy.

Organizational empowerment refers to providing authority to employees to make decisions and act without having to seek approval. This means people use their own intelligence, experience, intuition, and creativity to get involved in the operations of the organization and help the organization improve and succeed. The implementation of strategies involves all the functions and people of a company, which is where influencers become valuable. Influencing is an art or process to encourage people to carry out a certain activity or way of being. People follow those who are bearers of satisfaction of their needs and interests. Specifically, the role of internal influencers can be influential (pun intended) in executing any internal strategy.

Influencers in the workplace are people who have exceptional communication skills and attract an audience naturally. An influencer is a person who has a certain credibility on a specific topic. They have the capacity to generate ideas on a continual basis. Influencers are not people who simply obey orders. They are users who break the traditional barriers and way of thinking in the workplace. An influencer may model the behavior expected from co-workers, understand human behavior, communicate properly, motivate, and lead.

Humans are social creatures by nature, and we take any opportunity to socialize, even in the workplace. We create networks that go alongside the formal organizational chart, and it’s in this spirit that most tasks get done. In an economy where ideas and intangibles drive value creation, leaders need to understand and acknowledge there exists this complex web of social ties from across divisions and functions.

These networks often have one or more members that connect the other members together and drive most of the conversations. These key members are influencers. They can become gatekeepers and build positive movement, or they can create confusion and complexity. Employees seek these influencers out for reliable information about strategies being implemented in a company. Because of this, they can catalyze or sabotage an organization’s newest endeavor; that’s why it is essential to identify influencers.

Here are three tactics to identify your influencers:

  1. You have to dig deep. Sometimes the influencers are the most prominent people. The employees that come to mind first can be those that are naturally social with their colleagues, actively engage in communications, and make an effort to connect with others outside of work. However, sometimes the usual suspects are not the ideal influencers. A case study from McKinsey found that firms miss three of the top five influencers in their organization.
  2. Push them to identify themselves. Create opportunities for these influencers to come forward to you. For instance, you can put out a call across multiple channels letting employees know you’re looking for people willing to play a part in your communications initiative, but that does not require a significant increase in professional responsibilities.
  3. Use snowball sampling. A low-tech yet effective tool is to send out anonymous surveys asking questions on who people turn to in specific scenarios. For example, “Who do you turn to for information to get your work done?” “Whose advice do you trust and respect?” Asking respondents to nominate one or more colleagues quickly maps out true influencers.

A true influencer is a person who has values. Formal leaders should respect the values ​​of the natural influencers in the workplace if they want to establish a fruitful working environment. Internal influencers are people who put a face to the company. Influencers can represent a company, but they will not promote anything that does not fit with their own values.

In order to motivate and empower the influencer in the company, managers and executive leadership must create a climate that induces workers to achieve certain objective and organizational results. It is necessary to create an environment that promotes and develops positive behavior patterns. To influence the behavior of employees, managers need the power to help the informal influencers in the company to correctly implement a given strategy.

How can leaders support influencers?

Here are five ways to empower influential employees:

  1. Change of roles: Assign the influencer with an extension of functional activities, which contribute to strengthening their work performance.
  2. Leadership thinking: Empowerment flourishes in an atmosphere of openness, good communication, and trust. Therefore, shorten the lines of communication between company managers, break down job barriers, and develop better understanding and cohesion in the organization.
  3. Training: Identify the gaps between what an employee should do and what they are currently doing. Once the gaps have been identified, train employees under an orientation towards a change in knowledge, skills, and attitudes.
  4. Performance evaluation: Empowerment requires development of the company’s employees. The evaluation of influencers is a comprehensive feedback process on the performance of their functions or responsibilities to develop or promote them to other responsibilities, levels of hierarchy, or areas of the company.
  5. Self-direction: Self-direction is an immediate consequence of empowerment, but it does not take place unless managers release the control they exert over individuals and work teams. In your first discussions about self-direction, it is necessary to establish the degree of freedom that the person or team will have when making decisions. Every organization must seek the right balance of freedom and its policies or regulations.

Here are three tips to boost influencer development by leaders and formal managers:

  1. Genuine conversations
    Talking with influencers and being open to their ideas is, without a doubt, the first step in the implementation of actions in favor of empowerment. A conversation that allows an influencer to feel comfortable in their workplace establishes a productive and trustworthy environment.
  2. The greater the autonomy, the greater the commitment
    The leader can create processes that increase the autonomy of the influencers. This is extremely important, as employees will feel much more committed and confident. Committed people want to do excellent work and want to be able to correct problems without a lengthy bureaucratic process. By empowering the team, satisfaction is multiplied and company perception is positively transformed.
  3. Train employees to make decisions
    Employees must be able to identify the results of their actions within the organization. Understanding which levels are affected by their decisions enlightens them when making future choices. This can only be achieved with absolute transparency about the current situation of the organization, that is, completely open communication by the leaders.

In an economy where ideas and intangibles drive value creation, leaders need to acknowledge there exists this complex web of social ties across divisions and functions. To sell a strategy to employees, companies need to leverage their organization’s energizers. Influencers are phenomenal change agents that can bridge an organizations’ strategies to their various groups and therefore should be part of an organization’s modern work model. Leaders that leverage their internal influencers and understand the power of their organization’s social networks are on the right track to implement strategies and transform their entire organization.

About the Authors

Keith Keating
With a career spanning over 20 years in learning & development, Keith Keating holds a Master’s Degree in Leadership and has experience in a myriad of areas ranging from Instructional Design, Leadership Coaching, Operations Management, and Process Transformation. More recently Keith has been leading clients on the development and execution of their global learning strategies. Regardless of the role, at the heart of everything Keith does centers around problem solving. He studied Design Thinking at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and found Design Thinking was a perfect tool to add to his problem solving "toolkit". Since then, Keith has been utilizing Design Thinking to help clients tap into understanding and resolving unmet customer needs.
Alex Kummerow

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