Tag Archives: informal network

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.

Can the way communication is handled cause problems in a change programme?

The short answer is yes it can, however that would make for a very short post. It is not possible to cover all of the elements of good communication in one blog, so this is a taster on a theme I will come back to in the future.

Image courtesy of jscreationzs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of jscreationzs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

One of the main mantra’s for any good change manager or shared service architect is communication, communication, communication. It is the people who are involved in the project or affected by it who can make it work or cause it to fail.

The projects that succeed have managed this part of the change process effectively by making sure that the right people are communicated with, at the right time, with the right information.

 

 

So who are the right people?

Here is a list of people who could be in the communication plan, depending on the project (please comment and add any you feel I have missed):

  1. people who have initiated the project and started it off
  2. main decision makers
  3. project sponsor
  4. project board
  5. project team
  6. management team
  7. staff
  8. unions
  9. customers
  10. stakeholders
  11. suppliers
  12. national bodies responsible for monitoring or validating the area of work being changed  or shared.

The trick, though is knowing what to communicate to each of these groups, when and in what format.

When is the right time?

All too often I hear of projects where all that people get is information about what has happened with long intervals of silence in between each communication. This is a prime breeding ground for rumours to become the main source of information about what is thought to be going to happen which then leads to the very people you want to be engaged and positive about the project being negative and difficult.

It is, therefore, important to have a regular, planned, timed and promoted methods of keeping all of the key groups linked to the project informed. I would suggest that this is at least monthly – but if the project is moving fast this should be increased to weekly or even daily updates. It is then important to keep the promises made about this communication programme even if the only thing to communicate is that there is nothing to communicate – although often this can be helped by saying what has been done as part of the process being  undertaken even if the potential outcomes cannot be shared. This communication should start from as near to the time that the project is initiated as possible.

It is also important to make the communication a two-way process – not just giving out information but showing how people can participate in, and influence, the change that is happening. A good change programme gets the people who are going to be involved in, or effected by, the changes that are happening participating at as many stages as possible. This is especially important at the start of the process as I have often found that  some of the most innovative ideas come from the people who are most closely involved in delivering or receiving the services provided.

This is not to say that the final outcomes of the change programme will be decided by everyone involved. It does mean, though, that when the options are presented to the project sponsor, board and decision makers that they will have the validation of the input from all of the people who have been part of the consultation element of the communication programme.

What is the right information?

It is information that they need to know at the time they need to know it and it should be presented in the places and formats that suit the people the communication is for. My recommendation is that you should give as much information as you can without hindering the confidential elements of the project. This will give the project credibility and can be referred to at the times when there is not very much detail to be shared.  It won’t stop the rumours, but it will help to maintain better relationships with the people involved.

I have listed below a range of methods of sharing the information (again this is not an exhaustive list), and not all methods will be suitable for each project:

  1. letters
  2. consultation documents
  3. newsletters – print or online
  4. internet pages
  5. intranet pages
  6. Twitter
  7. Facebook
  8. blogs
  9. linked-in
  10. staff meeting
  11. public meetings
  12. informal networks
  13. formal networks
  14. displays
  15. open days
  16. stakeholder meetings
  17. meetings with suppliers

Each should have a clear and simple method for anyone receiving the information to respond with a clear protocol for how and when the responses are dealt with. It is especially useful to develop a range of FAQ’s (Frequently Asked Questions) to help with this process and make sure they are easily accessible.

I would be interested to hear your views on communication and what has worked for you.