Training Industry

Peer Advocacy and Committed Leadership

  • Peer Advocacy and Committed Leadership

A friend started a small business involving a great deal of transcribing. A colleague recommended that he try an expensive program to reduce the amount of repetitive typing. He scoffed at the idea, saying he couldn’t count all the spam emails he received for similar labor-saving software. His colleague persisted. She showed him how the program worked, and how it increased productivity. He adopted it in his business and has reaped the benefits ever since. Every one of us can recall occasions of deciding to try something new on the recommendation of a friend or colleague. It could have been something simple, like choosing a particular movie or book, or trying a new restaurant. Trusting people whose experiences and values are similar to our own is natural. We seek out their opinions and value them more than advertising, rating services, and reviews.

Similar peer-to-peer communication affects our attitude toward an organizational change. Impersonal methods of getting the word out about a change initiative (such as mass emails and all-hands meetings) may give employees information that they need about the new initiative. But information alone is not enough. If a co-worker we know and trust has successfully adopted the change initiative and understands its value, he or she is in the best position to explain how the initiative can make a difference in doing our job. They can offer credible assurances that the investment of acquiring the skills to adopt the change can result in genuine benefits rather than wasted time. The recommendation of a colleague can be a key factor influencing employees’ decision to embrace a change. It should never be underestimated. However, peer-to-peer advocacy alone is rarely sufficient to spread a change through an organization.

Advocates of a change initiative can only be truly effective when backed by unambiguous leadership. People need support to learn new skills and grow into the unfamiliar demands of a new initiative. The first step is knowing why the change is necessary. This begins when one understands the need or opportunity that is drivingShapiro Quote the initiative, the consequences if the initiative is not implemented, and a reasonably clear picture of how one’s job will be done once the change is in place. But, even if every employee can recite the business case, they have to have the tools and infrastructure necessary to adopt the initiative. Acquiring new skills that cannot be put to use not only is discouraging but calls management’s commitment into question. Once employees have the tools, rewarding and recognizing those who adopt the change by taking advantage of the tools is a further sign of management commitment to the initiative. Employees who fully understand the need for the change effort, have the tools, and are rewarded for using them are more likely to get behind the effort and make it work. Leadership, infrastructure, and rewards give peer-to-peer advocacy strength and influence.

Making a change initiative work is a balance of leadership and followership. Leaders set the path. They will only be followed if the path is well defined and leaders demonstrate commitment to it. If employees who come on board are supported with tools and rewards, their know-how and application of new skills become a recommendation to their colleagues, and the initiative gains momentum. It is a mistake to try to substitute impersonal announcements or one-size-fits-all awareness training for the know-how and advocacy of a colleague. An investment in a change initiative is really an investment in the people needed to make it work.

About the Author

Dr. Andrea Shapiro

Andrea Shapiro, PhD, is founder and principal of Strategy Perspective. She brings a unique perspective to organizational change based on experience in software development, business modeling, management, and organizational learning and development. Andrea designed and developed the Tipping Point computer simulation, which forms the heart of the Change, Dialogue, and Action Workshop. She has delivered the Workshop to major corporations, non-profits, and government agencies in the United States, Canada, and Europe, and has accredited hundreds of change leaders and consultants to deliver the workshop worldwide in their own work in organizational change. Her book Creating Contagious Commitment  gives detailed real-life examples, theory, and background, all of which will appeal to any manager faced with implementing a significant organizational change.

After earning master’s degrees in mathematics and psychology and a doctorate in behavioral decision making, Andrea went on to further studies at the Coaches Institute and the MIT Sloan Business School executive education program in system dynamics. She has also served on the Graduate Faculty at UNC Chapel Hill and taught decision making at Pfeiffer University’s graduate program in organizational management. Andrea can be reached through or you can follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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