Read an interesting piece in March 2014’s McKinsey Quarterly about using people with informal influence within an organisation to drive organisational change programmes. The thrust of the article authored by Lili Duan, Emily Sheeren, and Leigh Weiss was how to best recruit the influencers, but it was their four principles for organisations looking to tap into the power of hidden influencers that I thought was the most useful. I have summarised these below.

The idea does overlap with John Kotter’s work on creating Guiding Coalitions to drive change, so worth considering his work as well.

1. Think broad, not deep. A key questions that Duan, Sheeren and Weiss are asked is how many people should we recruit – is there a formula? No, you need enough to cover the diversity of roles and opinions within your organisation. “The goal is finding enough people with influence in enough roles to get a high degree of connectivity across the company through a relatively small number of connections (out of the total number possible).

2. Trust, but verify. Not all influencers are positive or want change – think radiators and drains! So it is important to vet the participants to screen in influencers who are well regarded by both peers and their bosses. Whilst acknowledging that “bad eggs will be a valuable source of insight on how to convert skeptics”.

3. Don’t dictate—co-create. “Engage the influencers as partners in creating the change… (because their) informal authority dwindles if they seem to be doing the bidding of management“. And when they see the results of their co-created ideas take hold within the organisation, their sense of empowerment is boosted and spreads across the organisation.

4. Connect the dots. Provide systems and tools to allow and encourage the influencers to support each other.  The best most effective way of supporting their efforts is to give them regular times to meet face-to-face. “The participants’ sense of community, and of themselves as change leaders, grows as they share best practices, discuss new ideas, and address the inevitable challenges”.

So recruit, vet, co-create, support them and see change flourish.