The Road to Business Success

It’s not easy to achieve successful change. It requires time, effort and dedication. And all the help you can get. Particularly from your people.
So let me explain how I’ve used my ‘Unofficial Influencers’ over the years to smooth-in my change programs. You can then apply the same approach to help smooth yours.

I’ve found that within every group facing change you have four sub-groups.

The first sub-group is about five to ten per cent of the total. I call them the ‘active positives’. They’re the ones who, when they hear about the new program with its new ideas, want to be part of it and ask how they can help. They want to be involved.

The second sub-group is much larger, about 40 to 50% of the total. I call them the ‘passive positives’. They’re the ones who shrug their shoulders and say, ‘Well, it sounds okay, but I’ll just keep my head down and see what happens. If they want me to do something, I’ll do it. But I’m not volunteering for anything.’

The third sub-group is about the same size again, about 40 to 50% of the total. I call them the ‘passive negatives’. They’re the ones who shake their heads and say, ‘Don’t get involved. It’s just another bright idea, and there’ll be another one along next year. None of them ever work. Just keep on doing what you’re doing and ignore it.’

And the last sub-group is the balance, about five to ten per cent of the total. I call them the ‘active negatives’. They’re the ones who, for whatever reason, perceive they could lose from the change initiative. They therefore set out to sabotage it, sometimes subtly, sometimes not so subtly.

Unfortunately, in this last sub-group I often find some junior and middle managers, maybe also a senior manager or two, who have worked themselves into a responsible position, but who aren’t wholly confident, and see the new ideas as a threat. They’ll do what they can to stop it.

Now, your communications program will not have much effect on that last sub-group. You need to deal with them using a different change management approach. (See my other Post, The Road to Business Success 4).

However, for the first three sub-groups you should aim to convert at least half of the third sub-group from ‘passive negatives’ to ‘passive positives’, and convert some of the ‘passive positives’ to ‘active positives’.

Aim to achieve at least a 75% positive response from your total group in an attitude survey to demonstrate that your communications program is effective.

To help you achieve this goal let me introduce you to one of my key change management tools – the concept of ‘Unofficial Influencers’. I’ve used it for years with great effect.

Who are the Unofficial Influencers?

The vast majority of people really don’t want to change. Therefore, to get them to change, you have to convince them that the change is good for them and that the benefits of changing far outweigh those from not changing.

And the Unofficial Influencers can really help this process.

Every group in the workforce has one or more unofficial influencers. They are not the team leaders or supervisors. They are usually not the union reps. They are just part of the group. They’re not always obvious and you often have to figure out who they are.

What you need to do to help smooth-in your change program is to first identify the unofficial influencers in each group and then subtly use them to influence the others.

How do you identify the Unofficial Influencers?

In my experience, it’s unlikely to be someone who’s been with you less than a year. It’s also unlikely to be the one who shouts the loudest. I often find that the most vocal person does not always have much influence, though they think they do.

Gather the views of local supervisors, though don’t ask the direct question, ‘Who’s the unofficial influencer around here?’ You don’t want to alert people to what you’re trying to do.

I’ve found that the best way is to call a meeting of your likely candidates with a few others and put to them a hypothetical question that they can discuss. Get them talking about the options. You’ll soon find out who influences the discussion

Then, once you know who the unofficial influencers are, work out whether they’re positive or negative towards the change program.

How do you then subtly use the Unofficial Influencers?

Most people, when asked, will have both positive and negative views on a change program. So it’s important to talk to your unofficial influencers directly and subtly to find out what they see as positive. What would remove their frustrations?

Then build on these positive points. Follow their ideas that match what you want to do.

Give them recognition for the ideas. Up-play their role and down-play your role a bit to make them feel good about their suggestions.

Ask them to lead a small focus group to implement the ideas as part of the work program. They’ll then take ownership of that part of the program, become much more positive, and influence everyone else accordingly.

It’s a powerful tool when used wisely.

Let me finally show you one of many examples of how I’ve used this technique in another context to make a huge difference at the time.

Real Life Example

A few years ago I ran the production operations of a major US corporation in Europe. Every day I spent at least an hour if possible, both morning and afternoon, on the shop floor or office, talking to people, seeing what was going on, including getting to know who were the unofficial influencers in each group.

And sometimes I was amazed. I’d think to myself, ‘Why would anyone follow that guy? He’s a knucklehead.’ Yet somehow he had the ability to influence what other people thought, either by what he said or the way he said it.

Anyway, one Sunday morning I happened to see one of our female machine operators, SD, leaving the plant without permission. She subsequently compounded this error by double stamping and manually altering her clock card to try to cover up, which meant she had committed fraud, a serious offence. On the Monday morning, I therefore suspended her pending dismissal, according to our agreed disciplinary procedures.

However, on the Monday afternoon, one of my production managers told me the plant was in an uproar because I was going to fire SD. No woman had ever been fired before and, if the firing went ahead, the whole place would come out on strike.

For me, this was really bad news, because I had an increasing demand for our products and failure to deliver would seriously damage the business.

I knew that the unofficial influencer in SD’s group was a woman called Helen, another machine operator, who was quiet and not particularly vocal, but who really influenced the rest of the group. On my walk round the plant on the Tuesday morning I made sure that I ‘accidentally’ bumped into Helen.

‘Hi Helen, how’re you doing? Is your son keeping better now?’ I asked. I chatted about her family for a few minutes. ‘Everything else OK?’ I asked. She shook her head.

‘Jim, I’ll tell you right now. You’re in really big trouble. If you fire SD, we’re all out. The whole place. We’re not going to stand for it,’ she said.

There was clearly a huge amount of emotion surrounding the situation, and if I was going to avoid a strike, I had to either get rid of the emotion and concentrate on facts, or alternatively direct the emotion on to something else. I decided to try the latter course.

I spoke quietly to her. ‘Can I ask you something, Helen?’ I said.

‘Of course,’ she replied.

I continued to talk quietly. ‘If you were leaving the plant without permission and you saw me at the window, what would you do?’ I asked.

She thought for a moment. ‘I’d run back in again.’

I nodded. ‘You know, that’s what I expected SD to do. But instead she just kept on walking and got into a big Jaguar car – you know, like JJ, the Vice President has – a maroon coloured car with a personalised number plate. Who do you think SD knows that has a car like that?’ I asked.

She thought about what I said. ‘Anyway, Helen, thanks for the warning. I appreciate it. See you around.’ I left her and continued my tour.

By Wednesday, the atmosphere had completely changed. It emerged that the guy with the Jag was a local businessman, married with a family, and that SD was having a secret affair with him. The ethics of the work force kicked in and SD was now seen as a marriage wrecker. She lost all their respect. Even the union wouldn’t defend her.

On the Friday she came into the HR department and we fired her because of the fraud. We watched from the window as she left – and got into a maroon coloured Jaguar.

The point of this story is that, because I knew who the unofficial influencer was in that particular group, I was able to very subtly change her views and opinions, and in turn she changed the views of the others. And, of course, I avoided a potentially disastrous strike.

I hope you find the above guidelines help you to implement your change programs more smoothly. Enjoy your success. You can become the best in your business.

Apply the thinking in the ‘Elite’ Business Series of books here under the Books tab, and Beat the Competition!

Let me know how you get on.

If you need any help or advice, contact me at jim@oneoftheelite.com

Thanks for visiting,

Jim McCallum

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