Four Dimensions of Internal Influence: Ambassadors, Influencers, Advocates and Followers


Mike Klein

One of the enduring memories of my undergraduate education at the University of Wisconsin is a comment made by an otherwise forgotten Statistics professor: “There are two kinds of people in this world – those who think there are two kinds of people, and those who don’t.” When it comes to organizations and their social dynamics, I tend to think there are four main kinds of people, each of which has distinct roles and needs to be addressed in distinct, yet integrated ways:

  • Ambassadors: formal representatives of the organization or specific initiatives

  • Influencers: employees/members of the community informally sought for advice, knowledge or support

  • Advocates: individuals who voluntarily share opinions or facilitate initiatives or courses of action

  • Followers: those who have to be asked to take part in initiatives, activities or courses of action

Ambassadors

In recent years, organizations have become more and more aware of the role of social dynamics in driving the success of initiatives and overall performance. For the most part, they have focused, with few exceptions, on intensifying the ambassadorial dimension in the form of line manager training and incentives, and in organizing and orchestrating “ambassador” and “champions” programs where employees below manager level are formally designated as initiative representatives or behavioral role models.

Rarely, however, has the ambassadorial role been integrated with an explicit appreciation of the role of informal influence in driving the success of initiatives and behavioral change, likewise the role of influencers in shaping and circulating knowledge and opinion.

In some cases, the selection of ambassadors is even intended to usurp the influencer role – to the point where an organization would call its representatives “influencers” without any evidence that their opinion carried any organizational weight.

Implicit in the focus on ambassadorship is a focus on control. Executing a formal organizational role, as a manager or a champion, requires the individual to stick to official channels, messages and interpretations in promoting the agenda.