The importance of natural leaders in business change

Less than 5% of all employees typically have the potential to make a real, positive difference to the success or failure of business change initiatives. These key natural leaders have a significant impact on the views of their colleagues, while also being change-positive by nature, or at least open to change.

Our experience shows that in medium-sized or large organisations, each of these natural leaders influences an average of about 20 colleagues or external contacts.

There are usually more open-minded influencers than change-positive influencers. Equally, there are typically more open-minded influencers than change-negative influencers. So consequently, success or failure in business change often rests on the effective engagement (and winning the hearts and minds) of open-minded influencers. Only by convincing these open-minded individuals can businesses start to change employee attitudes business-wide.

The most common way of identifying change agents is to ask for volunteers, ask the change team or ask relevant managers. But in taking this approach, typically only a third or less of available influencers are identified. It also encourages ‘change blockers’, who will often act as Trojan horses, slowing things up and generally making life difficult.

Full staff sampling and representative samplings are also highly unreliable for identifying change-positive and open-minded influencers, because inputs from the change-negative and indifferent distort the results.

Our approach to identifying natural change leaders

To identify influencers, we use an iterative interview/group meetings process to progressively identify and rank influencers according to their scope and weight of influence. During this process, we take care to identify:

• Those individuals who are both influential and change-positive by nature
• Those individuals who are both influential and open-minded by nature

These two groups of influencers form the basis of both influencers and managers (some managers are influential and others not) during all change projects.

Successful business change not only involves strategy and implementation plans, but also finding hidden influencers in your organisations. Key Performance utilises informal networks to unlock and unleash their constructive and decisive potential to make ‘things happen’.