How can informal networks support change managers?

In my previous post I covered the importance of effective communication for a successful change management programme . There is, however,  a significant issue which is often not considered when developing an effective communication plan – the importance of informal networks in the communication map.

How often have you heard people leading a project complaining about the rumour network and the misinformation that is becoming the believed facts about the project and what is happening (or not happening). Rather than complaining about them it is better to harness the informal networks to spread the right information about the programme and use the main influencers within these networks as key parts of the change process.

The key element of an informal network is the social capital it gives to the people who are a part of it – this can be shown by the formula below:

Human assets = human capital (education, skills, competencies) + social capital (influence, innovation, collaboration)

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

The main success factor of any change programme – or effective leadership and management in general is keeping staff engaged, focused and involved so that they are able to continue achieving the results and outcomes you require to keep you business or service working effectiveley. This is why collaboration and connecting are critical success factors, and one of the best ways to do this is to use the existing social capital channels.

A communication plan normally focussed on passing information up and down the rigid, formal structure of the organisation.

BUT

Successful change and effective management and leadership only happens when managers connect with key influencers at all levels in the organisation, and most of these individuals are not in the management hierarchy so another way of linking with them needs to be found.  This goes hand in hand with a collaborative leadership style.

Social capital is hidden, flexible and currently unmeasured but it has a major impact on how staff react to what is happening to them. It will be working whatever you do, so it is far better to harness the energy it includes and use it to get information out, and feedback back from as many staff as possible.

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There are a range of different networks within an organisation which are all based on trust:

  • Work
  • Innovation
  • Expertise
  • Learning
  • Decision making
  • Social
  • Strategy
  • Career advice

Networks will include key people who can be pulse takers, hubs or gatekeepers. The people in these roles are well-regarded and have a lot of influence. It raises the question about whether new leaders should be appointed by looking at their social networks and influence and the ability to connect well and not just on qualifications and experience.

It is important to search for the real change agents who are change positive (or open-minded) and who are strongly influential. These people tend to be in the middle if the organisation. They can influence around 25 people, so if you work with them then you can reach 2,500 people and win their hearts and minds for the change that is happening.

The networkers will be natural communicators so they can help you with the communication programme influencing what is communication and how it is communicated to make it more relevant and not just management speak.

I have been inspired to write this post after attending a presentation on Changing the Change Game by Peter Westbrook of Informal Networks.

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