Influencers in an organization play a crucial role in diffusing innovative practices within the organization and enhancing the rate of adoption.
Organizations, adopting agile practices, want to be more responsive to the changes in external environment. Influencers are here to help in speeding up this journey of innovation
Organizations are doing away with hierarchies to promote collaboration, cross functional talent movement, faster decision making and efficient flow of information. The cornerstone of an agile culture is about innovating every day and making it business-as-usual (BAU). A dilemma that many organizations face is concerning the evaluation of new ideas and placing their bets on the ideas that are most promising and support their strategy.
Opinion leaders, present in every organization, have a role to play here in determining the rate of adoption of an innovation. In fact, the S-shape of the diffusion curve occurs because once opinion leaders adopt and tell others about the innovation, the number of adopters per unit of time takes off. Opinion leaders also play a crucial role in taking the idea to implementation stage and in the process facilitating the management decision of investment and capital allocation.
While organizations continue to invest in formal communication channels to diffuse information about innovation, it is still a challenge to create a culture of innovation, solely through formal sources of communication. The heart of the diffusion process is the modelling and imitation by potential adopters of their peers’ in the network and their experiences arising from previous adoption a new idea. While potential adopters have the “information” about innovation, it is the opinion leaders who actually “influence” and make them adopt the practices.
While organization wide diffusion of innovation and creation of an innovation culture is a wide topic of discussion, we have put together top three roles internal influencers can play in this journey to create a culture of innovation.
- Information gatekeepers
Some roles in the organization are best placed to receive external information, process, synthesize and then circulate them within the organization. We must appreciate the value such roles bring to the process of innovation by feeding the market trends, changing dynamics and competitor actions. If such roles are staffed by individuals with limited network in the organization, then the diffusion of relevant external information remains restricted to formal ways of communication. In contrast to this, if we staff external facing roles by influencers, the speed of information diffusion increases by more than 2x. This combined with wider informal network of the influencers, results in effective action impacting the organizations strategy.
- Influencing adoption
It is a common knowledge that organizations of varying sizes have teams in different parts who are more innovative, are agile and progressive in adoption of latest industry practices. However, challenge remains to bring other teams or function on board, leading to a wider adoption of innovative practices. At a team level, the issue is more about cross-pollination of ideas which mostly happens through formal communication, forums, syndications, and recognition. Influencers play a role over here in cross-pollination of ideas to the relevant teams and influence the adoption of innovative practices. Research has defined this as “Two-step model” consisting of information gathering (Step One) and subsequently influencing (Step Two). Influencers, by way of their interpersonal effectiveness, can influence people in their network and nudge them on adoption.
- Taking Ideas to Implementation
Organizations wanting to create a culture of innovation require their talent to adopt innovation as a way of life and not something that happens by chance. Innovation, in such culture, is an everyday affair where individuals and teams are continuously working to improve their processes. Influencers play a role over here by leveraging their network to provide the necessary resources for bringing innovation to light and taking them to implementation stage. New practices working in one team, needs to be tested in other team of the organization to validate the efficacy and replicability of the innovation. This is the domain where influencers can be leveraged to identify the relevant teams in the network who can be part of the pilot to test the innovative practices and provide valuable feedback. Timely testing and feedback enable an informed decision on capital allocation and wider adoption of the practice.
To sum up…
Organizations benefit by identifying their hidden influencers who can be a crucial bridge between information and adoption of innovation. The informal networks of the opinion leaders are wide and are hierarchy-less. This enables faster diffusion of innovation and, by way of nudge, faster adoption.
So, how are you creating an innovation culture in your organization?
Katz, J. P. (2011). Networks in the Knowledge Economy. In Academy of Management Executive (Vol. 17, Issue 4). https://doi.org/10.5465/ame.2003.11854693