Last week I spoke at the Australian Public Sector Women in Leadership Summit and was asked the following question, ‘What do you do when you need to take a large group of people through change that have diverse interests and attitudes towards change?’. The topic of my session was ‘Influential Communication’ and I had just taken them through the 9 principles of influence and the 8 steps to holding successful influencing conversations. In fact, she’d asked this question right before I was about to share principle number 9 and it was the perfect segue.
Principle #9: Influence only happens one person at a time
We are so busy at work that we are constantly looking for ways to leverage our knowledge, share our expertise and get work completed faster. We're looking for efficiency. ‘Change management’ has become a core part of the role. Which is where things become tricky. Because we understand at a very rational level that each person has a different attitude toward change based on their own experiences, reference points and aspirations. We also understand that change is the new norm, the only constant, we live in a VUCA world. Quite often we even get messages from the internal comms team that are designed to make it easier for us to communicate to our people about the change.
Not all messages are created equal
If you have been a leader of a large team, you will know the feeling when you have communicated a message over and over and yet you still hear the question, ‘but I don’t know why?’. This is an indication that you haven’t got your change management right. Which makes sense, because if we're sending one message to a group of individuals, we know the particular message is not going to resonate with every single one of them. Effectively communicating the message will require a different approach for each of them.
"But there are 70 of them, and only 1 of me. I don’t have time to speak with every person.”
Which is why you need to influence the influencers
Think about it this way. When you’re starting a fire from scratch, you have your big logs. And then you have your kindling or your fire starters. The key to starting and sustaining a good fire is to make sure you light the kindling (or the cheats version) and that this kindling is positioned in the right place amongst the logs. If you get this right, the fire will both ignite quickly and burn the logs so that the fire rages for the whole evening.
You need to think of your people in this way. Who are the people that you can influence quickly, but then in turn will share the message with others in the team and do the work that is needed to bring them on the journey? It’s that old saying, 'many hands make light work', as long as you have the right hands.
How to identify the influencers?
They are the ones that have charisma, that when they talk, people stop and listen, and that often have people at their desk talking to them or asking them for help. They may not be the loudest, but they make things happen. They don't do it all themselves, but they seem to be able to rally others to get stuff done.
Influencing through change: top tips for you
Remember principle #9: Influence only happens one person at a time. If you want to do it right, you can’t do it on your own: you need help.
Identify your influencers by creating a group of ‘change champions’. When forming this group, here are some things to consider:
Cross functional, multi-level seniority works well: we know tone at the top is critical, and also that in most organisations, the masses are more junior. You need to include a good cross section of all levels.
Create space for your champions: imagine how long it would take you to influence each person in your organisation. Your champions are your delegates, so give them some of that time. Take work off their plate where possible if you want the work done well.
Invest in your champions: This is a great development opportunity for them, so reward them by coaching them in how to lead through change. They may need coaching on how to communicate with influence: help them do this well. Coaching is an excellent way to leverage knowledge (and investment) because you invest in one, and they share the knowledge to many.
Don’t strand them on champion island: they are your influencers, your kindling. You can’t start the fire without them, so don’t leave them hanging because they’re ‘easy’. They are your ally.
Lead with influence: role model the behaviour you want to see in your influencers. Have communication flexibility, own your impact and influence your peers. Remember: even big logs can be cut into kindling
Influence the influencers
Free up your time
Have greater impact
Love to hear your thoughts...