There has been a fundamental disruption of influence and power over the past few years. Historically, power and influence were in the hands of a chosen few at the top of hierarchies such as politicians, CEOs and public figures. Today we see a different picture. A great example of this is the meteoric rise of Vloggers. These are often teenagers, posting videos from their homes somewhere quite remote. They can command viewers in the their millions and make – or break – a brand or product purely through the influence of a 50 second video. Just last week celebrity influencer Kylie Jenner appears to have wiped roughly $1.5 billion off the market value of Snapchat with one tweet.
The interesting point for organisations to take away is that this isn’t just happening in the outside world. It’s happening at work too. Enterprise social networks such as Yammer or Chatter, as well as a tendency towards flatter hierarchies in many organisations, means that your influencers aren’t necessary all sitting in the executive team. At work, influencers are ‘people who can, because of their knowledge, skills and position in the company network, and not their formal hierarchical power, shape the views of multiple colleagues’. These influencers can become powerful change agents, most particularly in the face of culture change or a major transition your organisation is undertaking.
A challenge for organisations is to identify these influencers, and ensure they can leverage them to support organisational needs and outcomes. While I find that most of the organisations I speak with are aware this should be on their to do list, I sense that many are struggling to find a route to achieving it. So I’ve drawn out three ways to illustrate how to identify influencers, focus on them to nudge behaviour and leverage them to change micro-behaviours.
- Identify influencers: Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), a long-standing client of ours, has made public communication the default through an internal social networking platform the norm called Knome. By using Knome in place of email, a private form communication they aim to unleash unstructured collaboration, innovation and creativity. Interestingly, TCS have also used this tool to identify influencers within their organisation. By using a platform, they can see beyond the traditional hierarchy and identify those with social capital or bright ideas, wherever they might sit within the organisation
- Focus on influencers to nudge behaviour: Nudge theory is a concept in behavioural science where positive reinforcements and indirect suggestions influence the motives, incentives and decision making of groups and individuals. As you can imagine, if organisations focus on changing the behaviours of influencers and leaders, these nudges become all the more powerful. This is due to the multiplier effect of highly visible or influential people on their peers
- Leverage influencers to change micro-behaviours: Enabling workplace culture change requires an understanding and altering of micro-behaviours. It is important for influencers and leaders to call out negative micro-behaviours in the workplace. Equally, leaders and influencers should provide micro-affirmations, that is congratulating the efforts and achievements of employees when they engage in the right kind of work or behaviours. In doing so, employees’ behaviour becomes conditioned through negative repercussions and positive reinforcements, provided by both leaders and influencers
Identifying and leveraging influencers requires subtle and thoughtful work, but research indicates that the outcomes can be significant, particularly in the context of culture change. I have certainly seen the results in the crowdsourcing projects that I run with clients – both in engaging influencers to raise awareness and engagement before the event, and in identifying hidden influencers during crowdsourcing events themselves.
If you’d like to find out more about how to identify and leverage influencers in your organisation, feel free to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
 Shu, L. Gino, F. Bazerman, M H., (2011) Ethical Discrepancy : Changing Our Attitudes to Resolve Moral Dissonance, Behavioral Business Ethics: Ideas on an Emerging Field. Taylor and Francis Publishing
 Workwire, (2015) Workplace Nudging Persuade People To Desirable Behaviour