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👍 How Change Leaders Can Leverage Change Influencers

change influencer change leader sponsorship Nov 07, 2022
How Change Leaders Leverage Change Influencers

When introducing change in an organization, there are many stakeholders to engage and involve to increase the likelihood of success. One significant group that Change Leaders can and should work with is what Apogy refers to as Change Influencers. At Apogy, we divide the change sponsorship role into two buckets: the primary sponsor (often a designated executive or business owner) and sustaining sponsors, or Change Influencers. 

For those familiar with change management terms and jargon, a Change Influencer might look like what some refer to as a change agent or change champion, depending on your definitions. Regardless of the term used, the point is that Change Leaders need people impacted by the change to help with the implementation process in a meaningful way.

In this post, I’ll share what a Change Influencer is as defined by Apogy, why they’re important, how Change Leaders can understand who these individuals are, and what’s in it for Change Influencers. 

Understanding the Role of Change Influencer

Change Influencers are the grassroots leaders of organizations who make the benefits of adopting and sustaining a change come to life. They provide social proof, using their natural influence and credibility to encourage others to adopt a change. Change Influencers may directly support the project through testimonials, special projects, or by serving as subject matter experts on the project team. 

When we think about Change Influencers, these individuals are often self-motivated and advocate for change from within. They understand the business need, get behind the vision, and are passionate about helping their peers and colleagues be successful during the transition. Unlike a primary sponsor who has decision-making authority, Change Influencers are a powerful group with limited decision-making authority but unlimited influence to leverage. 

Change Influencers are vital to successful change efforts. Through their actions, behaviors, and in-depth understanding of how the change impacts their fellow employees' day-to-day work, Change Influencers help others accept and adopt change more quickly and with greater ease. 

How do Change Leaders identify Change Influencers?

Change Influencers are connectors who can build coalitions within their direct group, level, or role. They accelerate buy-in for the change both horizontally as well as vertically, garnering interest and support along the way. Change Influencers use their influence to lead, versus their position in the organization. Their titles and status don’t matter because they are credible, authentic, and values-driven, all of which are traits of leaders worth following. 

Change Influencers tend to be innovators or early adopters by nature. They also tend to be higher performing individuals who are willing to take on more responsibility for the greater good. For this reason, it’s common for a project team or primary sponsor to enlist the support of a Change Influencer during the planning or test phase to ensure someone who understands how the frontline works is on point to provide critical feedback and guidance. 

As the Change Lead or business owner of an initiative, it’s up to you to help identify who these individuals are, and to build relationships accordingly. Not sure where to start? Asking front-line employees who they admire and trust is one way to identify a Change Influencer. You can also ask senior leaders to nominate a mid-level manager or high performing individual on their team, someone who is ready and capable of handling a challenge. Consider asking questions like:

  • Who do you think would be a good example of leading the way for this change?
  • Who do you (or others) admire or think highly of? 
  • Who do you trust when things are uncertain at work?

Additionally, Change Leaders should pay particular attention to those directly impacted by the change and express an interest in getting involved. These early adopters can play a pivotal role in driving the initiative forward as they are already bought in and eager to participate. 

While senior leaders may have an idea of who the Change Influencers are across the organization, it’s essential to crosscheck their recommendations with the broader team. Sometimes those further from the front line may have a different view and perception of the inner workings and relationships that exist, which is why validation is key. 

What’s In It for Change Influencers?

A Change Influencer is a representative of the project team, a trusted advisor to senior leaders, and an advocate for end user needs. Individuals in this role can expect their visibility to increase as they take on additional responsibilities related to the rollout of the change. This could include co-hosting a meeting, leading a conversation with a cohort of employees, training people on the new ways of working, or leading a special project on behalf of the change or project team. 

Change Influencers may acquire new skills throughout the change process as they guide others to adopt the change. For example, a Change Influencer who doesn’t do a lot of public speaking may be able to develop their presentation and communication skills by co-hosting meetings alongside the Change Leader and project team. They can also develop valuable technical skills alongside the soft skills they acquire, especially when the change is technology related. 

The biggest benefit of serving as a Change Influencer is the opportunity to take on more responsibility outside their job description and duties, which can help them grow in their careers or identify a new skill set they wouldn’t have previously had the opportunity to tap into. This realization usually comes later, however, as the early days include a learning curve that can sometimes lead to temporary feelings of overwhelm. 

Another perk of the Change Influencer role is that it generally leads to more exposure at the executive level. As executives receive updates about the progress of the change, Change Leaders can and should mention those who are paving the way. To take it a step further, Change Leaders embedded into an organization could work with executives to recognize Change Influencers for their efforts through the organization’s employee recognition program, public shoutouts during all staff meetings, or spot bonuses when appropriate. 

An underrecognized and sometimes unstated benefit of serving as a Change Influencer is that it could lead to a career change. It’s not uncommon for Change Influencers to step outside their roles and take on new activities, only to realize how much they enjoy these new responsibilities. It’s not uncommon for companies to make the Change Influencer’s role permanent, especially if the roadmap includes more change that could benefit from their subject matter expertise and proven ability to lead and guide stakeholders successfully. 

Don’t underestimate how truly valuable Change Influencers are in your change initiatives. Do you need help building a strategy to help you identify and work with Change Influencers? Email us at [email protected] to learn how we can help!

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