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Creating a culture of influence

This article originally appeared on my LinkedIn profile here: Creating a culture of influence.

Every revolution begins with just one person, someone who decided things needed to change and inspired other people to join them in the endeavour.

What is influence?

This article was originally titled ‘The Role of the User in User Adoption and Engagement’; but as I was putting it together, it became apparent it was more about creating a culture which allows a community of revolutionaries to flourish. The fast paced, disruptive world we find ourselves in, where change is ongoing and tangential means the speed of adaptation is critical and creating an organisation full of influencers is a cost-effective way to manage, enable and create change.

Conversely, we start our user adoption journeys in the illusion we can change another person’s behaviour.

But it isn’t within our gift to change someone else. The best we can hope for is to inspire them to change the way they think – think about themselves, their role and the context of their work. In other words, we (or others) influence them to change.

By approaching change in this way at Dorset County Council, I also came to understand the change we’re involved in isn’t just about digital; instead we realised we were embarking on a journey of cultural and social transformation, that simply had technology as the key driver. This change means users aren’t simply passive recipients of cookie cutter IT style training interventions, instead they are co-creators on the journey with us. And it’s with this mindset we began to create the culture that fostered an environment of healthy, self-directed social learning, creativity, support and collaboration.

In our brave new world, digital technology is the essential foundation and enabler of transformation, but it’s not the transformation itself. Focusing only on the technology leads us to conclude the Genghis Khan method of change management, by which we force a change in process, is transformative; when the reality is it only changes the process; for example, staff save a file in OneDrive instead of locally. This isn’t a change in behaviour or thinking it’s just channel shift.

I’ve also heard a lot about how important it is to get the c-suite to join the party, assuming they are the only ‘influencers’ an organisation can muster. Again, in our experience this is erroneous thinking. An influencer is someone who inspires other people to change their behaviour, ideas and thoughts. In other words, it can be, and often is, everyone!

One of the best conversations I’ve had recently was with a senior leader in Children’s Services, who admitted the business admin support team had been the key to the senior management using OneDrive to share and collaborate on files.

And one of my favourite email quotes came from a school’s accountant who said “OneNote is the most exciting thing I’ve come across since I discovered excel filters, arrays and data sort! And if you knew me, you’d know that’s really saying something!“. This quote was in a lengthy email exchange where she reiterated every single one of the aims of the ICT digital strategy, without ever having been a party to it, seen it or even heard about it. Instead, she had spent some time with an administrator who showed her OneNote and talked to her about the benefits of working more collaboratively in a flexible environment. That administrator is one of our digital champions.

Influencer Groups 

If we accept that everyone is an influencer it becomes worth thinking about where we might be able to spot them. At DCC I wrote up a list of the group types I spotted so I could think about how they could help me support our user adoption work. These groups aren’t mutually exclusive, and I’ve seen the same people crop up in multiple groups at the same time, the only difference being the situation and/or application:

  • Observers – know things are happening but lack time and/or the motivation to get involved. This group tends to focus on ‘what’s in it for me’. By talking to them about what really matters in their world we tailored what we do to hit the benefits mark.
  • Opponents – can often be identified by variations of the ‘it won’t work’ dialogue. They are great at helping us identify where communications are failing, our instructions are wrong or it’s just impractical.
  • Entrants – have, usually, just joined the authority, heard about Office 365 or seen something on the Intranet for the first time. They are great for spotting the ‘gotcha’s’ because they haven’t been integrated into the Borg group think so see things more clearly.
  • Experimenters – are the ‘happy clickers’ with an ‘oooh, what’s that’ approach. They sign up to any and every event eager to know more about what’s coming and how it all connects. Target them to help with testing.
  • Advocates – generally think change is a good idea and are willing to say so but tend to do it from a distance. They are usually leaders and managers who see the broader benefits but may not use the technologies themselves. This group helps us disseminate official, corporate communications.
  • Helpers – are the people everyone goes to with a question. They frequently show others how to do things, share their knowledge and step into conversations, wherever they take place. We encourage them to join our champion’s network.
  • Champions – We have two groups of champions at DCC. The first are people who love an app and encourage everyone to use it. The second is our digital champion’s network. This is our core group of trained and engaged adoption and engagement champion’s. Their role is to challenge the way their team works.
  • Influencers – generally don’t set out to influence but do so as a by-product of their own behaviour – we call them the ‘quiet influencer’s’. We encourage them to tell their stories by way of user generated case studies and blog posts.
  • Evangelists – are people who extend their reach into the wider DCC community. They are great at crossing directorate and service boundaries to pitch up and do a presentation about what’s worked for them.

It would be easy to assume that some of these groups are ‘better’ or more positive than others. However, that isn’t the case, they all have a critical role to play in the overall user adoption and engagement strategy because without challenge there can be no change!

How I created the culture

Working with influence is rather like throwing a stone in a pond and watching the ripples as they bounce back towards you – you never know the pattern they are going to make. All you can do is plan, deliver and hope, so we decided to use a three-part influence model to maximise reach:

User matrix

We created a matrix of digital skills, digital maturity and personas which we used for application migration knowledge transfer. This matrix was overlaid with each application, showing us clearly the knowledge each persona needed to benefit from the opportunities it presented.

Communications plan

The annual communications plan focuses on one application each month allowing us to build more generic knowledge transfer opportunities. By identifying multiple channels and audiences we’ve reached a much broader group of staff than previously. It also allowed us to introduce the idea of self-directed and social learning and support, a concept staff at DCC were unfamiliar with. This reduced the need for more formal and costly ICT training programmes.

Digital Champions Network

The DCN is a business networking peer-to-peer support network that meets monthly to share knowledge and experience, has a monthly masterclass, a SharePoint play site and a very active Yammer group.

What happened?

Working in this way has meant even though we’ve only seen 14% of the workforce (635 individuals) at any of our face to face events over the 18 months the project has been running, we’ve still achieved 25% of the workforce choosing to use OneDrive, over 83% using SharePoint sites on a regular basis and 60% using Yammer.

But, the numbers don’t necessarily mean that change has happened, as I mentioned before storing a file in OneDrive is not evidence of transformation. That left us with a question which was how to understand the impact that influence has on our Office 365 journey?

Measuring influence

We decided to run an impact assessment survey with one of our most important groups – the digital champion’s network.

The network comprises 89 staff, representing around 80 teams (roughly 1/3 of the organisation with O365 accounts), who volunteer their time to learn more about Office 365 and take their knowledge and understanding back to their teams. They are empowered by their manager to recommend and initiate change within the team, regardless of the position they hold at DCC. We have champions from senior levels of management down to the lowest paid groups. Our survey response rate was 90% of members, which means we can be confident of the results.

What we found was that for every £1 we spent on the network, we achieved an overall influence value of £3.74, that’s an ROI of 274%. We also asked questions about the applications and their motivation for getting involved.

What we learned

We measured team influence value by asking how much time members spent on their own development AND supporting their team.

  1. The top 30% spent twice as long on their own development and helping colleagues as the group as a whole.
  2. On average members of the network had an influence potential value of £774, but the top 30% was almost double at £1415.
  3. In every instance, bar one, the top 30% out-performed the whole group.
  4. How well you know an app isn’t a barrier to using it. In other words, there was a moderate ‘have a go’ mentality amongst network members. (+0.30r)
  5. The size of team supported matters – the average team size is >9 and those champions who were close to this average generally scored higher across all areas; this suggests that influence in this group is related to those you spend more time with/have most in common with.
  6. Those champions who spent more time on personal development also spent more time supporting other people in their team. (+0.41r). And when we looked at the top 30% of performers (in terms of team influence value) this correlation increased significantly to a moderately strong (+0.56r) correlation.
  7. The top 30% felt much more positively about their work at DCC (average score out of 5 was 3.43), compared to an average of 2.78 across the whole group.
  8. All our champions felt their involvement in the network meant they were more confident, knowledgeable, more likely to try different ways of working and encouraged others to try things too.
  9. The only application which failed to have a single team where every member used it was Sway. Every other app had instances where every team member was using the application.
  10. Champions were asked questions about OneDrive, SharePoint and Yammer most frequently.
  11. The most common reasons for getting involved revolved around personal AND team development.


Ideally, to be certain of our results we would survey the entire authority and do a comparison analysis. Unfortunately, that’s not possible, so we aim to run the survey regularly to understand trends amongst the group we spend the largest part of our budget on.

What we have seen at DCC is that it’s perfectly feasible to use an influence methodology to initiate cultural and digital transformation. We’ve learnt we don’t need costly training interventions to achieve decent results.

For example, we’ve seen people and teams working in very different ways from those we envisaged. In some instances, whole teams have moved away from Outlook to Yammer as a core method of team communication; and others are using SharePoint task lists to create a living and relevant team plan, rather than the usual Word document that’s filed away until next year. And we know from the experience of developing this approach that these behaviour changes are something we can build on when we introduce apps like Teams later in the project.

Whilst it would certainly be true that taking all staff through a specific training and development programme might lead to the earlier adoption of applications, the organic approach we’re using and now advocating is one that works, has benefits beyond the obvious and is something other cash strapped organisations might also like to try.

(Image courtesy: © Jonathan Souza |

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