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Let me share a piece of our own research that has just come up from the oven.

In a 1200 people, pan European company, in the financial sector, we have compared the power  of the five person Leadership Team, in terms of messaging and engagement, reaching other people, with the power of the top five Viral Change TM Champions, defined as top influencers and hyper-connected in the organization.  The analysis has been done blind and anonymously. All staff were asked a series of seven questions to try to identify the colleagues whom they would trust and reach in order to obtain some real information, or the ones who usually reach to them for the same communication purposes.

We analysed three steps (or ‘degrees of separation’) that can be understood like the immediate layers of connections. One layer or step equals your immediate network, second step the connections of that immediate network, third step, the connections of those connections.

The results are revealing. By step one, the Leadership Team had a reach of 21 people whilst the Viral Change TM Champions  had 104. Step 2 (connections of the immediate connections) Leadership Team 100, approximately, and Champions 3 times more, around 300 people. Step 3, 250 for the Leadership team and 450 for the Champions. By step 3, the five person Leadership Team was able to reach (tap into) 27% of the workforce, whilst the five top Viral Change TM Champions reached 49%, almost half of the workforce.

The power of this data, gathered through the use of Social Network Analysis (SNA) is its inclusiveness (all people in the workforce participated) and its anonymity.

The results reinforce the well established principle in Viral Change TM  that hierarchical power is limited when compared with the one of highly connected and influent people (Champions or Activists, in the Viral Change TM methodology). Of course these Viral Change TM influencers need to be found, identified and eventually asked for help to shape a cultural transformation of some sort.

Finding the real influencers inside the organization is vital to orchestrate a bottom-up, peer-to-peer transformation (‘change’, ‘culture’, new norms, etc). It does not get better than this. Many organizations naively think that this pool of influencers match existing pools such as “Talent Management’, for example. This is not the case.

In the macro-social world it has been a while now since  ‘the death of the influencer’ has been proclaimed, for example in mass marketing. There are reasons for that. In many social phenomena, critical masses appear without clear individual influencers. However, inside the organization, the importance of particular individuals, not in the hierarchical system, is clear. Internal, influence of the few, is well and alive.

Backstage Leadership is the art, performed by the formal leadership, of giving the stage to those real, distributed leaders who have approximately twice as much power as the Leadership Team when it comes to influence, messaging and communications inside the firm. Similarly these influencers shape behaviours and culture.

Our data is consistent with Edelman’s Trust Barometer that places the category ‘people like me’  (peers) twice as much higher than the CEO/hierarchical power.

Burn those organization charts! Other than being a sort of Google map for who reports to whom, they don’t say anything about the real organization. Social Network Analysis does. Then, Viral Change TM takes over to shape a culture.

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  1. John R Childress


    Excellent and very thought provoking. Hopefully top management is listening.

    John Childress

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