The One Person Who Can Change Your Entire Organisation

What did your hair look like when you were 13 years old?

What about your clothes?

Which decade of fashion-don’ts were you victim to?

These probably aren’t styles you would have chosen on your own, right?

When we were teenagers, other people influenced our choices — about what we wore and how we acted. But not anymore.

… Or do they?

Somehow as we get older, we assume we’re wiser, more sophisticated, and somehow immune to those same social pressures.

In reality, we’re every bit as susceptible to social pressures as we were as teenagers — we’re just less aware of it.

Rather than try to escape the inevitable social pressure that surrounds us, we need to think about how we can harness the power of social capital. How can we tap into it as a force for good rather than let the pressures play out in ways we don’t even realise?

We’re all influenced by others. At work, our opinion of the new proposal is tainted by our co-worker’s opposition to it. Our willingness to go to a weekend training is impacted by the excitement of the team. When we respect the people in favour of a new initiative, we likely support the initiative too. When the people we doubt start pushing a new idea, we’re more hesitant.

Tapping into motivation isn’t about getting people to make decisions more independently — that’s not practical.

If we want to motivate others, we need to enlist the power of the people who are already motivating.

Identify the Motivators

Enlisting this power means we need to identify who motivates others.

Before you propose a change, ask yourself, “Who are the people who will either motivate or discourage the behaviours we’re looking for?”

You might be one of those people, but there are likely others too.

Some of these people carry official titles of leadership. Others lead their peers simply because of who they are.

Formal Leaders

As you change the way things have “always been”, remember the importance of engaging the formal leaders inside of our organisations.

As we at VitalSmarts have rolled out crucial skills training to employees across multiple industries over multiple geographies for the past several decades, we see people who are eager to learn new skills — but they worry about what their bosses will think when they actually start implementing what they’ve learned.

They are willing to work on a healthier approach to communication, but they struggle with the risk involved if their boss doesn’t approve.

They say, “I’m ready! I’m excited and I’m going to do this, but my biggest concern is that I’m going to get out there and my boss is going to say, ‘What are you doing?!’ If I don’t have the support of my boss, I can’t do this. By the way, where is my boss? We’re sitting in this training and I don’t see my manager…I don’t think anything is really going to change.”

This is a valid concern. So, how do you face it?

You start at the top. If you can influence the influencers and let their support cascade down through the organisation, you’ll have monumental impact on people’s engagement. When you engage formal leaders first, you improve your ability to motivate change in your organisation. If they don’t approve and support these initiatives, they’ll destroy your opportunity to bring change.

Yet, when formal leaders support a change, they’ll make it easier for others to follow along.

Opinion Leaders

After you find and engage formal leaders, you need to enlist the help of the opinion leaders. Opinion leaders are the people who are socially-connected and well-respected. These people tend to be smart, progressive people who adopt ideas rather quickly. They can be tremendously helpful in engaging the support and motivation of others.

If you don’t happen to know who these people are, here’s how to find out: Ask everyone in your organisation, “Whose opinion do you respect and value the most inside this organisation?” Have them submit their top three names anonymously.

If a person’s name appears only once, you can bet someone wrote down their own name.

If a name shows up only twice, someone has a buddy!

But if a name shows up ten times or more, pay attention! You want to look for the names that surface repeatedly. These are the influencers inside your organisation. These are your opinion leaders.

Once you know your opinion leaders, spend a disproportionate amount of time influencing those people. If they get onboard, they’ll practically sell the idea for you. (But be prepared: if you don’t do a good job selling to them, they’re going to kill your idea.) There’s tremendous value in winning over the opinion leaders first.

Give Clear Action Steps

When we seek to change organisational culture, the opinions of the leaders can make or break the entire initiative. So, you not only need for leaders to buy-in, you need them to know what to do.

As you influence formal leaders and opinion leaders, be extremely clear about what actions you’re asking them to take. Tell them, “We’re looking to motivate. We want to praise the right behaviours and hold people accountable for the wrong behaviours. We want to encourage people to hold their leaders accountable.”

Then, when the leaders of your organisation start encouraging the right behaviours, discouraging the wrong ones, and embracing accountability, hold on — change will happen fast!

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