What Difference Do Influencers Make? 3 Mini Case Studies

Is social influence in the workplace more valuable than formal hierarchy? Well, engaging your internal networks of influence has an organisational reach of 74%, versus the 5% reach of hierarchical communication [1]. Marketing colleagues have been harnessing the power of influencers for decades to drive product sales and brand loyalty, and innovative companies have realised that this strategy can also be implemented successfully with their internal “customers”, aka their employees. Whether you wish to get customers or employees on board, properly identified and empowered influencers can drive your change, communications and engagement programs to success.
We’ve pulled out 3 key examples of how internal influencers have been deployed successfully to further organisations’ people strategies.

1. Change Management

Influencers facilitate change management initiatives; improving communication flows and encouraging the workforce to understand and support the change. Whether you are going through a merger or acquisition; a shift in business direction and strategy; or introducing new working processes, influencers are your most influential, motivated and capable employees and can help you to successfully navigate the change.
Change Management Case Study: The Customer Services function of a high street retailer sought to implement a digital transformation with the purpose of improving customer service. This transformation meant going digital, completely removing paper from their processes. Although the change itself was positive and made day-to-day work more straightforward and less onerous for staff, the company wanted to ensure that the shift was embedded and sustained. They used Organisational Network Analysis to identify their most influential employees and invited them to join the group of managers leading this change. The role of the influencers was to maximise employee adoption, ensuring that employees had a full understanding of what was required of them and why the change was needed.

2. Internal Communications

Formal communication channels are visible on every organisation chart, but informal ones are not as easily identified. The power of the latter is also often underrated. It is important to map both the quality of formal (top-down) communications as well as analysing informal communication flows, which include bottom-up and peer-to-peer (horizontal) communication. The resulting insight reveals where communication is strong and effective, as well as highlighting priority areas where poor communication may be having a detrimental impact on productivity and engagement. It enables leaders in your organisation to appreciate the differences between how information is supposed to flow and how it really does.
Communications Case Study: A financial services business wanted a better understanding of their internal communications, and particularly why engagement levels were low in several key business units, including HR and IT. They sought to identify blockages in the flow of information, and create clear actions and recommendations to address them. Across 800 total employees, 25 “social hubs” were identified; in other words, the employees who were best embedded in the organisation’s informal networks and who had the greatest communications “reach”. These influencers were then engaged in a strategic communications programme to identify the frequency, method and content of organisational messages; and then deployed to deliver key communications, while simultaneously obtaining feedback from staff about initiatives’ effectiveness.

3. Employee Engagement

Influencers identified by People Navigator are all peer-elected. But why is this important? After all, managers already feed back information through annual appraisals and talent assessments. Crowd-sourcing people’s opinions on everything from holidays (Tripadvisor) to confidence in their CEO (Glassdoor) has revolutionised our decision-making. Technology has made it possible to collect and analyse data from a much broader base, for more objective decision-making, where before we were forced to rely on a more subjective assessment.
There are numerous benefits to having peer-selected influential employees, which ultimately impact on engagement:
  • They have more credibility as change agents
  • Acknowledgement by their colleagues enhances their personal motivation and organisational commitment
  • Having been nominated for their professional capability and social influence, they have been assessed as holding the qualities which engage others.
  • They role-model the key behaviours of engaged employees to others. 
Engagement Case Study: In this large and complex organisation, it was not possible for the senior leaders to have contact with more than a small number of employees in their respective business units. The most powerful impact on employee engagement was in the hands of line managers and, as highlighted in the annual survey, some were very capable of generating high levels of engagement amongst their teams, and some less so. This company recognised that there were members of staff at all levels of their hierarchy who people approached for advice and support, and sought to identify these individuals as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.
From an initial pilot with one of their regional offices with 650 staff, they have since identified influencers globally amongst their 7,200 staff. Engagement scores have increased from 65% to 72% over a 2-year period through an engagement strategy driven by influencers and line managers. Their programme has included empowering teams to deliver their own continual improvements; making the feedback loop from employees to senior leaders more effective; and delivering over-arching organisational messages more impactfully and concisely.
To read more about how to identify influencers in your organisation, click here. Or if you have specific questions and would like to talk to someone, contact us now.
[1] Maven Seven Network Research 
© Tim Pointer, Starboard, 2016