No Leadership Title? You Can Still Influence Change

A People Equation reader wrote to ask my advice on the following:

Our small company is growing and we need to learn to use organizational tools like spreadsheets more effectively. I’m comfortable using these tools, but many of my peers aren’t. The tools are out of their comfort zone, but once they learn the system, I believe it will reduce their overall workload. How can I influence them to use these tools, even though I’m not their manager?

This is a great opportunity to influence positive change in your workplace even if you don’t have a leadership title. And according to research by O.C. Tanner, you are on the forefront of a developing trend where all employees are empowered to lead.  Kudos to you for stepping up to a leadership opportunity.

Here’s the thing about change:  people will not change until the pain of staying the same (“status quo”) is greater than the fear of changing (the “new” state.) So, in your case, “status quo” is using whatever tool/system they are currently using and “new” state is using the newer productivity tools.

Sometimes resistance to change is based in a fear of the unknown. In this case, my guess is that most people just feel “too busy” to learn to use the new tools, they don’t really “fear” the new tools. So, you need to show them how a bit of investment in time now will save them time in the future.

3-Step Process to Influence without a Leadership Title

Step One: Soften The Market

First of all, identify at least three very specific time-saving (or other beneficial) aspects of making the move. Be ready to casually mention one of these benefits whenever the time seems right – while you’re having lunch with a colleague or in a hallway conversation. This is known as “softening the market”. It’s not a hard-sell, it’s just putting the idea “out there” that this new way of operating has positive benefits.

Step Two: Find an Ally

Identify the most positively influential person on your team (besides you.) This will be a person that most of your team members will listen to AND someone who you think will want to help you. This is what we call an “opinion leader”. This is NOT the loudest complainer who likes to get people riled up and lead the troops in the wrong direction.

Approach that person. See if they will partner with you to figure out a way to get more people interested in using the new tools. Say, “I know the team looks up to you. I think our team can <say a benefit> if we would just learn to use the spreadsheets <or whatever tool> better. Will you help me find a way to do that? How do you think we can do this?” It’s REALLY important to ask the Opinion Leader for their ideas. I always say, “People will support that which they helped to create.” Offer to teach the person a few time-saving tips to see the value of making the change.

People will support that which they helped to create

Once you’ve got your opinion leader on board, see if they can informally start “talking up” the time savings/successes he/she had buy using the new tools. The goal is to slowly get “critical mass” (more than 60% or more) of your team to listen and be curious about the new tools. You want them thinking, “Hmmm . . .if <Name of Opinion Leader> is using this, I wonder if I should too.”

Step Three: Get a Few Early Successes – Then Inform Your Boss

Once you’ve gotten one or two people who are comfortably using the new system, see if they’ll give you a few “testimonials”. Ask them for a success story – how has making the change to the new system benefited their productivity? Once you can demonstrate positive progress, it’s time to bring your boss into the loop. Any team leader worth their salt will be pleased that their team members are learning something new. Plus, if your boss has been one of the hold outs in trying the new system, it may give a bit of a boost of confidence that yes, they can do this too. The best possible outcome is that your boss will praise those who’ve taken the steps to make the change.

And finally, remember, the goal is not necessarily for YOU to make the change, it’s for you to influence the change. So, if you’re not the best messenger, find somebody who is. You can be coaching the process along from the sidelines. You are doing this because you have your department’s best interest in mind, so stay strong and know that you will make a difference.

Good luck!

Post updated 2021

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