In every organization, there are people who have formal and informal authority. The folks with formal authority are fairly easy to spot. They usually have the biggest office, fanciest clothes, and sit at the head of the table. Spotting the ones with informal authority can be a little trickier. Sometimes they are more vocal and aggressive. Other times they are silently controlling the tides from behind the scenes in your organization. Either way, it’s one of your key responsibilities as a change agent to identify these people and leverage their influence to drive change. Here are a few techniques you could use to make this happen:
1) Build a solid business case for the change you wish to ensue. You can do this with your internal resources or leverage outside help. Make sure you cover all the most important bases, especially those that closely align with your core business values. Also, your business case needs to be data-driven including identified risks, costs, benefits, and key milestones to implementation. Also, your business case needs to be formatted in an easily palatable story so that anyone can quickly understand what you have in mind.
2) Identify the opinion leaders in your organization. This includes the boss in the corner office, the tenured machine operator whom everyone highly respects, the aggressive manager, or the Admin Support whom everyone loves. Pay attention to who everyone waits to speak in meetings and then tend to just go along with. Also identify the more vocal employees who put off the vibe that they’re not playing the same game as everyone else.
3) Get the opinion leaders on board with your idea before anyone else even hears about it. Opinion leaders value their position (of either formal or informal authority) over almost all other things, and you should too. The last thing they want is to have someone else (the change agent in this case) encroaching on their territory. By befriending and giving the opinion leaders a stake in the change you are pursuing, you gain powerful allies in the initiative. By not acknowledging them, you gain powerful enemies.
4) Deliver on your part of the deal. Opinion leaders usually expect something from you in return for their support for your initiative. They might want you to speed up the process for getting a nagging maintenance issue fixed or help resolve some other ongoing conflict they’ve been having. They may just want assurance that their place in the new kingdom is safe. Either way, you’re going to have to help them with that issue in exchange for their full cooperation. And they’ll probably want their issue resolved in short order.
Once you’ve successfully executed on these steps, then you’ve paved the way for smooth implementation. Miss any of these critical steps and you’ll be swimming upstream for a long time before any relief arrives.
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