Advocate Power!

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webIf you want to discuss something discretely, who do you talk to? Chances are, it is not the same person as you talk to when you want to “spread the word.”

Advocates have tremendous power in supporting–or undermining–change both at the personal and the organizational level. Millennials rely heavily on advocacy; for them, in many cases the power of their social network is significantly greater than the power of positional authority. Social movements–whether it be civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, or any other–are all about advocacy. Lobbying carries advocacy into the halls of government.

While social movements and lobbyists are often highly successful in their advocacy, it is a resource that tends to be under-utilized in personal and organizational change. What would it take to make use of advocate power in these circumstances?


Successful advocacy begins with knowing who has influence with whom. Who talks? Who listens? We’re not referring to those that everyone seeks out for the latest gossip. Rather, we want to know who people talk to when they want insights into “what is really going on,” whether a pending change is a good idea or not, etc. Working at the personal level, this is something most of us are in touch with. I remember one client who told me, If I need to bring my dad onboard, I start with my mother. She can influence him in ways I never can do. But, she also doesn’t really talk with a lot of people, so if I want to ‘spread the word,’ I start with my good friend Jake. He talks with everyone, and when he talks, they all listen.

At the organizational level it is often more difficult to know who the advocates are. If your organization uses online communities, these can tell you a great deal. Who are the active participants? How are their posts responded to, and how broad an organizational reach do the responses reflect? Another useful tool is Organizational Network Analysis (ONA), sometimes referred to as Social Network Analysis (SNA). Very often these tools are highly academic in nature, and difficult to use. However, I have found one or two that are easily accessible, and that can provide powerful insights into who the real influencers are in an organization…More often than not, it isn’t who you think.


Some people are strong advocates across the board. Other people may be able to advocate on certain changes, but not on others, or with certain groups of people, but not others. Pay attention to this. Whether the change is personal or organizational, you may need different advocates to help with different stakeholders.


And what do you want them to advocate for?

Historically, many saw the role of advocates as seeking sponsorship of a change. “Mom, can you talk Dad into letting me stay out past curfew?” Or, “Honey, we really do need a new car, and this one…” Or, “If I can convince the boss to let us change how we execute this process we can free up time for some other things.”

But more and more, advocacy is about directly influencing people to make changes, whether personal, organizational, or social. By far the best book I have found on this topic is Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change by Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler (the authors of Crucial Conversations). According to the authors,

Influencers do three things better than others. They are clearer about the results they want to achieve and how they will measure them. They focus on a small number of vital behaviors that will help them achieve those results. They overdetermine change by amassing six sources of influence that both motivate and enable the vital behaviors.

The “six sources of influence” the authors reference take the form of a two-by-three matrix that addresses motivation and ability at the personal, social, and structural levels. They provide a number of case studies reflecting how the model has been successfully applied to personal change (e.g. in lowering school drop-out rates), organizational change (e.g. improving workplace safety), and social change (e.g. lowering poverty rates through micro-credit loans). Whenever possible, I advocate the use of their advocacy model. It works!


Do you intentionally use advocacy in your change efforts? How have you harnessed Advocate Power? Comment below.

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