Srabani Sen: To ignite change on diversity, charities must influence the influencers

Often organisations delegate responsibility for diversity and inclusion to groups or individuals who lack the power, position or resources to make the changes that would really make a difference. This can be frustrating for those people and for the organisations they are trying to change. It almost always results in initiatives failing to achieve long term change, and organisations staying stuck.

If you are one of those people, how do you ignite change on diversity and inclusion by winning the backing of those in your organisation with the power to make things happen – the ‘influencers’? Here are six actions to help you influence the influencers:

1. Brainstorm your ‘hit’ list
Think strategically. Who can pull the levers of change? Don’t just list the obvious people. What about those who have access to the influencers or whom influencers trust? These people could be external to your organisation. Could it be someone on your board? Could it be a consultant working on ‘people’ issues?

2. Work out what you know about the hit list
What do you know about the people on your list in general? Don’t skip this question. The answers will give you clues about how to approach them. What do you know about how they connect with the change you’re trying to achieve? Don’t make assumptions. If you don’t know, find out. What’s their sphere of influence? What are they like as people? What connections do they have? Asking these kinds of questions will help you prioritise who to focus on and let go of trying to cultivate people that would be a waste of time and effort.

3. Rate their influence on the specific change you’re trying to achieve
High/medium/low. A,B,C. 1.2.3. However you do it, rate each person’s influence on achieving your diversity and inclusion goals. However, make sure you have evidence to back up your score. If you have no evidence, go out and look for it. If you need to make assumptions, be clear what these assumptions are so you can test them if you need to. Prioritise those you’ve rated highly. You can always come back to those you’ve scored ‘medium’ if you need to.

4. How much do your hit list influencers know about the change you’re trying to achieve?
If you don’t answer this question accurately two things could go wrong: you assume they know more than they do, and therefore miss out key facts or arguments that could persuade them to help you; or you assume they know less than they do and over explain, irritating them into ignoring you. Again, don’t make assumptions, find out. Have they written reports, blogs, articles? Where could you look? Who do you know who could tell you?

5. Why should these influencers care?
Just because you care about something doesn’t mean influencers will. Work out how to motivate them to engage. Depending on what you found out about them in answer to question two there are a couple of ways of approaching this.
• Indirectly: what do they care about that you can hook your issue onto?
• Directly: do they have a direct interest you can tap into? Again – think beyond the obvious. E.g. If you’re working for change on gender inequality, the gruff looking guy in the corner office might be your best ally because he wants to change the world for his daughter.

6. What’s your plan b, c, d, etc?
Have faith in your plan A. But have some back up ideas just in case your first plan to influence the influencers doesn’t work. If plan A fails, you’ll have other things to try and therefore be less inclined to give up. And if there is one thing you really need to be, it’s tenacious. Working through these six questions will help you develop an action plan. The rest is up to you, your zeal and your persistence. Good luck.

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