Social Networking in Change
Updated: Jul 19, 2021
a group or system of interconnected people or things. "a trade network"
interact with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts. "it's so important to network when starting a new business"
I don't believe that the success of an organization can be borne on the backs of a handful of people. I believe that the success of an organization comes down to how willing we are to work as a collective, standing on the same shared values and working toward the same goals.
As is the nature with quite a bit of change work, I'm often brought into projects when things go sideways. This can be for a number of reasons, including disconnected groups of people, competing priorities, lack of clarity or leadership, organizational misunderstanding, or simply just general dysfunction. When we're engaged in programs like this I often find that the organization or the teams struggle with creating and sustaining connections.
"To feel a connection is to feel valued, and to feel valued is to feel belonging. 'I matter.'.." - Me
With any change project, there's always the diagnostic phase, the phase where we look at a number of indicators of the change culture in an organization. Certainly, we assess with the usual tools (stakeholder and impact analysis, readiness assessments, etc.), but beyond that, there is more to consider, including (but not limited to):
The vision of the change against the vision of the organization - do they align?
Organizational change memory - how did the change happen to people before this, and how did it land?
Are people a part of the change or does change happen to them?
Does the organization help people understand why the change was important/beneficial, and how to act and support change? Or do they just plan a series of communications and training sessions?
Do the impacted stakeholders typically have any say in the strategy or any skin in the game?
Are all of the impacted stakeholders properly identified and understood in terms of impact, emotion, and capability to change?
You can have the greatest communications and training plans, but if you forget about engagement ... and I mean, true-blue-they-are-probably-gonna-tell-you-what-you-don't-wanna-hear engagement, then you're missing the boat with your strategy. To really engage people is to have a two-way dialogue, to be able to volley ideas or listen to/escalate concerns, or simply to have a confidential and safe place (or person) to share the darker side of the change with.
... Herein lies the value of social networking inside of change.
This is a tactic we use on large-scale and complex programs of change; we've used this tactic across industries in oil and gas, mergers and acquisitions, construction, technology, business process improvement, and organizational design projects. On some projects, we've had as few as one and as many as five Networks running at a time.
Depending on your change, the complexity, the layers of stakeholders this is a fantastic tactic to get the deepest knowledge and insight into an organization that you can, including understanding cultural barriers that may impact your program of change. If you're able to have more than one Social Network, you can strategically communicate within or outside of an existing hierarchy, which allows you to cross-pollinate and enable greater visibility and understanding for your change (I personally love that part - when they all "hum" - it's amazing to see the engagement across an organization.) Additionally, Networking helps establish change leadership behaviours across multiple areas of an organization, educating people on what change is, what it looks like, sounds like, and feels like. Above all else, you can create social norms that not only allow, but invite people to speak their truth about (the) change - this specifically enables your organization to become more change resilient.
This is a huge EQ move for your strategy which means you need a roadmap to support it. Here are some tips on getting started with your Social Network:
Be planful - Build the plan for your Social Network. This should include every detail from getting together with your project team to scope the stakeholders and find your chain of command in getting folks onto your Network. (Apply change management 101 here.)
Leverage Key Messaging - Don't deviate from program or project communications - stick to the script and make it fit for the intent of the Network.
Manage Stakeholder Relationships - Seek approval from all of the right people before launching into this concept. Once you have approval, develop messaging to support the layers of change leaders with whom you need to work with.
Gripes go up - avoid blending hierarchy - Front line folks need psychological safety - so give them the space to speak their minds honestly about a change. Leaders should never be put into a position where they're exposing a negative opinion of a change to their teams (which they're perfectly welcome to do ... under the right circumstances!)
Be considerate - Approach leaders ahead of approaching any front-line workforce to participate. People have jobs outside of the change, and you might like someone, but they may be a poor performer in their current role. You don't know what you don't know - work with leaders to get the right people on your Network.
Invite Creative Tension - People with negative perceptions aren't always negative people, besides, you don't want a bunch of people who are all on the same side of the bell curve. Bring in people who are willing to tell you what you don't want to hear when the need presents itself.
Terms of Reference - Prepare a strong Terms of Reference that your Project Leaders and organizational Leaders can get behind and support.
Have leaders communicate - Invite leaders to discuss the opportunity with their people and communicate expectations - this shows alignment and investment in the change program and Social Network.
Kick-off strong - Facilitate a strong kick-off meeting with the Network(s). Share the Terms of Reference so they know their roles, responsibilities, time commitments and how to communicate. Set the rules of engagement upfront and help them live into them.
Be consistent - Social Networks are like plants; if you're not paying attention to them, they die quickly. Don't let this be a flash in the pan or the flavour of the week!
Be planful (yep, still..) - Have Metrics of Success, agendas, action items, and logs of activities for your Network(s). Avoid canceling and moving meetings around to accommodate your schedule. Show Network Members how valuable their time is by respecting the commitment you've made to them and prioritizing these relationships and your support of the Network.
Review and refresh often - stay on top of agendas, norms, facilitations, and membership to your Social Network. Be open to bringing new people and letting some people lapse if it's what's best for the change program or the Network.
Retire or transition the Network - As Kenny Rogers said "... You've got to know when to hold 'em... Know when to fold 'em... Know when to walk away... and know when to run..." When a Social Network has run its course, or a project comes to an end, pay respect to the Membership and Leaders of the organization by buttoning the Network up and thanking folks for their insights and participations. In the event, a Network is moving into an operational mode (which is super cool), then take the time to create a transition plan to support Operational leaders in helping it thrive beyond your engagement.
Want to have a chat about your Social Network ideas and plans? Send me a message - a phone call doesn't cost a thing!