Innovation Commitment — It Takes a Community
I recently shared the attributes of a Change Leader Triathlete. While disruptive change requires triathlete-level focus, tenacity and endurance, these leaders additionally surround themselves with talent-rich people who fulfill both pivotal and complementary roles. Who are they? The ever-vital Change Influencers, Champions and Implementers.
Influencers wield significant informal power. Over a period of time, they've been able to successfully amass followers by cutting through conventional hierarchical layers. The most powerful influencers have developed a firmly- and wide-rooted web ofconnections and bridges with the most senior level executives, the front line staff plus everyone in between. While their organizational reach is typically broad and deep, in some instances, it can also be targeted to a critical change lynchpin. In either case, influencers can exponentially propel your change forward or catastrophically derail your efforts altogether.
With disruptive change in particular, it's imperative that the Change Leader Triathlete not only identify influencers early on in the planning stage, but swiftly engage them. Finding the influencers can be tricky. A percentage prefer to keep a low profile and many certainly don't advertise who they know and how well they know them. You may have to go "underground" within your organization and ask several carefully crafted questions to pinpoint who your influencers are. Once you've identified them, you must genuinely connect with their hearts and minds to understand their motivations. Only then can you gauge how your organization's influencers:
- Are likely to react to the change
- Might be best leveraged to advance the change
- May be swayed if they perceive the change as being detrimental
- Would respond in being asked to actively participate in eliciting and overcoming change barriers
If we purposely or inadvertently ignore the organizational influencers, believing that their value is anything less than extraordinary, we're not only contributing to the global employee disengagement epidemic, but we're also positioning our companies, customers, employees and ourselves for change disaster.
With their infectious enthusiasm, determination and drive, champions can be found waiting in the wings for that right pivotal opportunity. Spurred on by hope of a brighter tomorrow, they rally around worthy and oftentimes radical causes. Know, however, that many of these folks have been previously burned by excitedly stepping up to the change plate only to have their hard work and dreams dashed by flavor-of-the-day and false start programs. While they may be initially cautious, once you've earned their trust, your champions will soon become your ambassadors for the future.
What is the champions' role? They walk a fine line between actively participating in change socialization and resistance mitigation while simultaneously engaging and elevating the employees' voice. How you position their role is key. While some change models suggest that the champions remain anonymous as they perform their covert, mole-like assignments, I recommend 100% transparency — ALWAYS. Announce the champions, define their role and make certain that the nature of their work is fairly and accurately depicted and communicated throughout your organization. Additionally consider challenging your champions to seek out and enlist employees who are willing to share their change-related success stories. Closely teaming your champions with the rest of your organization will not only cement their role, but will create a high level of engagement which is essential for advancing change.
Change without implementers is comparable to living without breathing — an impossibility! These folks are the real innovation heroes. Their role spans idea origination through innovation realization. With their boots on the ground and antennae up, implementers continuously scan the organizational landscape as they seek out and act on ways to strengthen their customers' and employees' workplace experiences. They latch onto and run with the simplest to most daunting ideas with their never-give-up attitudes. Making a difference is their personal mission.
Similar to champions, some implementers may be leery in taking the disruptive innovation plunge if they feel exposed. They realize the level of brute force required to cut through political and philosophical barriers impeding creativity and break-through thinking. If they've previously experienced change resistance, they're likely to take innovation one step at a time as they test and confirm "smooth waters ahead". Once the Change Leader Triathlete has paved the way, count on the implementers to not only rise to the occasion, but to lead your organization into new, exciting, previously uncharted and competitively advantageous territory.
What About the "Fence Sitters" and "Die Hard Resistors"?
When influencers, champions and implementers are successfully engaged and effectively supported, the laws of critical mass and self-sustainability begin to unfold. As the innovation groundswell takes shape, fence sitters rapidly move to change adopters. With their "let's wait and see" attitude, it doesn't take much to guide them in the right direction to where they too, become integral and contributing community members.
And then there are the die hard resistors. While typically few in number, they can wreak change havoc depending on where they're situated within the organization. If after establishing clear behavioral expectations and holding them accountable doesn't produce long-lasting positive results, the only viable option is to manage them out. Turning a blind eye to their deviant behaviors and energy-zapping ways places an unfair burden on everyone else's shoulders. Removing negative energy is not only the right thing to do on behalf of your employees, but it will speak volumes to your innovation vision commitment.