Recognise This! – Hidden influencers are the people that keep your organisation running smoothly. Tapping into their strengths can deliver great benefits. Your social recognition programme can find them.

What do I do? I don’t help companies implement employee recognition programmes. I partner with company leaders to help them create or strengthen a culture of recognition and appreciation across the entire organisation. Anyone who has undertaken culture change can attest that is a heavy burden. And it can’t be done by a project team alone.

You need on-the-ground influencers. You need local people who work in the cubicles, on the shop floor, and on the front lines. Without them, change initiatives fail.

Earlier this year, McKinsey published an article on “Tapping the Power of Your Hidden Influencers.” I highly recommend a full read of the article as it summarises quite well the fundamental challenge of most change efforts – they are led by the wrong people.

Yes, you need executives visibly taking ownership of any change, explaining why the new approach is important to them and to the company. But then you need people at every level of the organisation also communicating a very personal message of why it should matter to you. McKinsey explains who these people are:

“Informal influencers exist in every organisation, across industries, cultures, and geographies. They are, simply put, people other employees look to for input, advice, or ideas about what’s really happening in a company. They therefore have an outsized influence on what employees believe about the future, as well as on morale, how hard people work, and their willingness to support—or resist—change.”

But how do you find these influencers? McKinsey points out that influencer patterns rarely follow the org chart, company leaders are terrible at identifying the true influencers, and very few influencers are senior leaders. In that reality, McKinsey recommends “snowball sampling” to find the influencers. This is done through short, anonymous surveys asking, “Who do you go to for information at work?” Or “Whose advice do you trust and respect?” Then you compile the answers and see whose names rise to the top most often. Those are your hidden influencers.

When working with customers on changing company culture through powerful, positive recognition and appreciation, we, too, look for these hidden influencers. We typically refer to them as recognition ambassadors. Identifying them can be done in similar ways. Very early in our relationship with new customers, we’ll often conduct a brief recognition survey to assess current attitudes and levels. (This helps establish desired metrics of success as the programme evolves). We also include these hidden influencer questions to help find ambassadors.

These people play a very important role. They aren’t helping to just launch a new employee recognition programme. They’re instrumental in creating culture change through frequent, timely and specific appreciation of colleagues’ successes and contributions. That’s no small feat. How do you equip them for success?

We’ve consistently seen the use of ambassadors drive much more rapid programme adoption and thereby achievement of desired strategic programme goals.

Done well, your recognition programme can become your snowball sampling mechanism for future change efforts. We recommend structuring your programme so that every recognition moment reinforces something important to the success of your organisation –often one of your core values or strategic objectives. If you’ve done that, you can quickly see which employees are more regularly recognised for specific values or objectives. Let’s say one of your objectives is improved safety and “safety” is one of the reasons for recognition in your system. If you’re planning a particular campaign around safety, you can see who has been more regularly recognised for demonstrating key safety behaviours. These are your people that “get it.” They are your safety influencers. They should be your safety ambassadors.

Who are the hidden influencers in your organisation? How do you find them? How do you tap into their influence today?

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