Being a person in a position of power does not automatically equal having the ear of your people. How can you recognize and leverage your internal influencers?
According to Leandro Herrera's research, the five most influential people in a workforce are able to reach more than double the amount of people a five-person leadership team can. As noted by Herrero, "hierarchical power is limited when compared with the one of highly connected and influential people". Internal Communications, HR and management should try to identify their internally influential people and reach out to them to become internally influential in a way that benefits the company and the company culture as well. It is possible and even likely, that the most influential people in your company are not those in upper management positions.
How to Identify Your Internal Influencers
It’s not easy for upper management to predict or identify internal influencers, and they are often wrong in their predictions. Internal influencers are likely to have some, if not all of the following traits:
- Mid-management or supervisory position. Internal influencers are often in a position where they know people from management personally and have a good understanding of how the company works. However, they regularly work with their team members and have a good understanding of the day-to-day tasks of people around them. As they engage in discussions around day-to-day work activities, they are able to understand specific issues the employees are facing.
- Bridge-building mentality. As internal influencers understand people from different departments and positions, they are likely to be prone to act as bridge builders within their organization. This doesn’t necessarily mean they need to be in supervisory positions, as any employee can act as a bridge-builder if they have the right mentality.
- Deductive skills and lateral thinking. Internal influencers are often good at seeing the connections between tasks and issues. This is also why they often excel in mid-management or supervisory positions. They are likely to see how small details impact big decisions, and this is why they are quick to react to issues faced by their team members and likely to have solutions to fix them.
- Social skills/likability. Internal influencers are, essentially, people who other people listen to and like. We trust people we like, and we like people we trust. Employees from different departments of the company are likely to look up to someone with good social skills. Employees are also likely to conform to the ideas and atmosphere created by the influencers.
- Wide network. As mentioned above, internal influencers are people with good social skills and a high “likeability factor”. This logically often concludes that their network is large, and they are likely to converse and engage with people from different departments. They are likely to have a wide external network beyond their workplace as well.
One way to find these people is to conduct anonymous surveys for your employees, where you inquire for example, who are the people they ask for help, advice or ideas. If you see the names of particular people show up interdepartmentally, across different management levels, you are likely to have found your influencers.
Remember that while internal influencers are likely to be mid-management or in supervisory positions, they can be found and exist at all levels of a business. However, internal influencers are rarely senior management. Another thing to remember is that management rarely knows who their influencers are, without actually asking employees the right questions and looking at the right things.
Internal Influencers Can Drive Organizational Change
Changes can be difficult, and many people automatically react to change in a negative way. Your internal influencer is an excellent choice to be the advocate for organizational change, especially if they are the bridge-builders between upper management and employees. If you have a change coming up and you want to get people on board, convincing the internal influencers will help you turn around the general mentality. Make sure you get your internal influencers on board with the upcoming organizational change and make sure the internal influencers have the ear of other employees and team members. Employees are far more likely to share their concerns with someone other than direct management or upper management, and involving your internal influencers is a good way to make sure you know the real concerns of your employees. If these concerns are not addressed, it is likely change is not embraced.
Internal Influencers Can Improve Your Work Culture
Internal influences affect the entire work culture with their charisma and attitude, and people are easily affected by herd mentality. Your internal influencers affect people either verbally or nonverbally and have a great impact on the overall atmosphere of your company. As your internal influencers are likely to be empathetic people with good social skills, you can expect them to bring a positive attitude in the workplace. Don’t take this for granted, though. The ability of a few people to affect an entire mentality is a double-edged sword. You must keep an eye on these people and make sure they are not unhappy with their tasks and work situation. If your internal influencer is unhappy, their unhappiness is likely to be contagious.
On the other hand, you should encourage your influencers to talk about the positive aspects of the workplace and recognize and celebrate their coworkers. When good reviews come from someone your employees respect and like, they are more likely to be motivated by it.