It was a pleasure to fill in at short notice when the keynote speaker had to drop out due to an illness. My topic was Communication For Change. Here’s one of the key points from that session, which I also discuss in my book The Performance Papers: Incisive Briefings for Busy Leaders (in the chapter on “Culture Shock’).

Communication for Change: Find the informal influencers

In any organization there will be certain opinion leaders who others look to for guidance. These are often not the “official” bosses.

Remember the two marines charged with murder in the film A Few Good Men? One is the charismatic and purposeful Lance Corporal Dawson. The other is Private First Class Downey, who is a bit naïve and lacking in confidence. He’s very much a follower, and he’s described as “idolising” the Lance Corporal. Whenever something in the court proceedings occurs that he doesn’t understand, or that frightens him, the Private pays little attention to the judge or even his own defence team even though they are all officers.

He’s not being insubordinate. He just doesn’t get what they’re on about half the time, because they’re not speaking his ‘language’. So, Private Downey turns to Lance Corporal Dawson as the source he trusts to tell him what’s going on and what to do about it.

There’s a huge lesson here. A key way to change organizational culture is to find and influence the influencers. To influence Private Downey, win over Lance Corporal Dawson. Similarly, if a respected supervisor, say, thinks the changes you are instituting are okay, you will get the support of everyone who looks up to him or her. (Conversely, if your local ‘Dawson’ doesn’t like your plan, or feels their – possibly very idiosyncratic-  interests are being neglected, it’s going to be hard going).

Who are your Dawsons? And do you know what makes them tick?

For more on communicating for change, see Chapter 11 in my book The Performance Papers.

And if you’re ever stuck because a speaker drops out at the last minute, it’s always worth calling. If I’m available, I’ll be delighted to help out.




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