One of the problems with attempting to include the input of all organizational stakeholders in planning and decision making relates to the shear size of the population, and the associated difficulty in reaching consensus on any given point or issue. This challenge is particularly acute when Interactive Planning is undertaken because of its continuous planning ethos and its organization-wide relevance. This Blog demonstrates how legitimate stakeholder representatives may be identified and how, through these “opinion leaders”, stakeholder views may be presented and addressed. In addition, these representatives in turn help their constituents to understand and commit to plans developed through Interactive Planning e.g. for Triple Bottom Line (tbl) Sustainability.
Across an organization’s social fabric, individuals learn to trust each other and form groups capable of sense making and knowledge sharing. It’s not just ‘What you know’ (Human Capital) or even ‘Who you know’ (Relationship Capital) that ensures this inter-connectivity, it’s ‘Who you know well enough to trust for advice, or have confidence in to get things done efficiently and effectively’ (Social Capital).
Although there is no uniformly accepted definition of Social Capital (SC), its meaning in an organizational setting can be defined as “The resources, tangible or virtual, that accrue to a corporate player through the player’s social relationships, facilitating the attainment of goals.” Each individual’s relationships with other individuals in an organization form that individual’s SC for better or worse; close relationships enhance SC, whereas distrust and lack of openness cause low SC (sometimes termed Social Liability).
Some individuals in groups and communities achieve particularly elevated prestige or influence with their peers. They form core groups and their names come up time and again in their peers’ hearts and minds and stories, not so much because they have authority but rather because they have attained legitimacy. Individuals demonstrating such characteristics have accumulated considerable SC and are termed here “Opinion Leaders”. In a sense they assume archetypical characteristics within an organization through emergent stories and myths, or attain their status by matching existing ‘trust norms’. Opinion leaders are highly trusted as advisors by their colleagues for a variety of complex and often systemic reasons, e.g. personal attributes, expertise, knowledge, longevity, local deployment, power etc. They are frequently seen as removing risk from organizational situations by providing a positive evaluation of “local fit”.
Such influential individuals typically gain elevated SC by having well-developed meta-abilities such as excellent cognitive skills, self-knowledge, emotional resilience, and personal drive. The development of meta-abilities results in improved interpersonal influencing skills. This contributes to these individuals being more astute and insightful, able to make better judgments, and identify more alternative actions. This means that they can better navigate the typical complex and dynamic organizational reality and influence effectively within it. Opinion leaders usually have greater exposure to mass media, are more cosmopolitan, have more change agent contacts, have a higher socioeconomic status, participate more in their social system than their followers, and are especially important for interpersonal networks whose members differ in many aspects.
If an organization has identified its opinion leaders, these individuals may legitimately represent their constituent stakeholders regarding the stakeholders’ views, and contribute to Interactive Planning in their behalf. As noted above the opinion leaders have themselves personal characteristics that make them particularly well qualified to participate in planning activities.
Theory and means relevant to the identification of opinion leaders based on using Network Visualization Analysis (NVA) have been presented elsewhere. The identification method is very cost-effective and is highly recommended to represent appropriately the various stakeholders across an organization.