A change calls for champions

Slack Experience Specialist Min Young Lee shares her tips for finding influential leaders and peers to help employees embrace new ways of working

A champion leads employees through change
Image Credit: Josh Cochran

In every group of friends, there’s one person who has his or her finger on the pulse: the one everyone else goes to for a new music recommendation, the rundown on the latest smartphone, or ideas about what to eat, drink and do in a new city. In the workplace, these people are an essential part of helping employees adopt and unlock the value of a new system or tool like Slack—because change is easier with the support of a trusted colleague.

As creatures of habit, we often have difficulty incorporating change into our routine, no matter how beneficial it might be. That’s because we tend to do the things that make us feel secure and comfortable, both at work and in our personal lives. We’re wired to seek homeostasis.

As an Experience Specialist for Slack, it’s my job to help customers arrive at a new equilibrium for their teams by finding role models within functions who can help lead the way. Top-down directives can get the ball rolling, but as our VP of Customer Success, Christina Kosmowksi, says, “Employees need more than that to be convinced that a new tool is worth the hassle of learning and adopting it. Otherwise, they’ll default back to their old ways.”

When rolling out Slack at scale, we lean on a network of internal leaders and peers to support their coworkers through the change. We call those people “champions.” Here’s how we find them and where they make an impact.

Who can drive change in your organization?

Whether you’re introducing a new software or objective, you need the buy-in of people at all levels of the organization. Three types of employees have an immense role in making that successful:

  1. Executives: Great leaders spark change with stories. The right narrative can galvanize employees and rally them around a common goal. The day Slack launches in a new team or rolls out organization-wide, we recommend that the executive sponsor send a message in an announcements channel—the match to the fuse. This message should reinforce how Slack will support ongoing business objectives and introduce upcoming launch activities, increasing awareness.
  2. Managers: These folks help create a culture of self-efficacy: the belief that you are capable of achieving a specific goal or performing a specific task. A subtle nudge from a manager can influence positive thinking and decision-making. For example, managers can encourage conversations to move to channels to foster a transparent team culture.
  3. Champions: These are passionate advocates for what the change offers. They’re visible point people who connect with colleagues on an empathetic level and can convince them that change is worth the hassle. Champions provide advice and drive companywide adoption. For example, they’ll follow up an executive launch message with a word of encouragement. “Hey, I know the first few days could be difficult. Let me know if you have any questions. I’m happy to come over to your desk and show you the ropes.” They may also have a finger on the pulse of the team, proactively sharing handy tips and tricks.

It’s important to note that champions don’t have to be the kind of deeply technical “power users” you associate with an IT help network, in which the focus is on deep mastery of the tool. Although they should get to know the product over time, there’s more than tool proficiency in play. Champions are focused on rallying people around the why, with an eye toward increasing awareness, adoption, productivity and perception. Extra points if they exhibit curiosity for new tools and a willingness to learn.

Where to find your champions

Generally, there are two ways we help organizations find champions. Sometimes they’re nominated by managers who have noticed their aptitude and positive personality. But more often, they emerge organically during a company’s change journey. Champions will raise their hands and volunteer, because they’re the type of people who are motivated by the reward of helping out their colleagues or improving someone’s day.

Keili Fernando, Slack champion at Experian

“I knew I was becoming a Slack champion when my coworkers started asking me to do regular Slack tutorials. They also know the best way to get hold of me is through Slack.”

Keili Fernando
Slack champion at Experian

Keep in mind the following questions when finding and activating champions in your organization:

  • Attitude: Are they informal leaders within your organization? Are they able to share feedback openly and honestly?
  • Insight: Do they provide guidance using illustrative examples that resonate with others?
  • Dedication: Do they have time to participate in the pilot launch and provide feedback along the way? Do they let others know of their role and availability?
  • Network: Are they influential, respected and well-connected? Do they have a wide network they can go to with questions?
  • Leadership: Do they have credibility? Are they proactive in finding solutions?
  • Representation: Do they represent the general user? Are there no serious complexities or dependencies that would prevent them from being viable candidates?

While the ratio of champions to employees depends on the size of the organization and how much the change will affect a group, we recommend a diverse set of champions that represents all of the company’s locations and lines of business. Organizational culture is also a consideration here. For example, do your employees typically have round-the-clock access to human support or are they accustomed to a self-serve mentality? In the former scenario, more champions is better.

How champions encourage best practices

A champion’s role actually begins before the rollout of a new tool or process. Think of that person as your in-the-know friend who’s an early adopter.

Champions are recognizable within departments and available for peers to approach casually with questions. Sharing regular updates in an all-hands meeting or simply adding a trophy icon to their profile photo in Slack is a great way to make themselves known.

There are various concrete ways in which champions can support and encourage their fellow employees:

  • In team meetings, they introduce Slack and explain how it can help everyone flourish both individually and collectively.
  • They point out the benefit of Slack channels compared with other communication tools.
  • They develop role-specific points that highlight to colleagues why Slack is relevant to their work, such as how support reps can triage issues with emoji or how salespeople can access Salesforce from inside Slack.
  • Just after launch, they offer time to connect with team members one on one and host office hours to answer questions.
  • They jump into online conversations and showcase best practices, such as directing users to the appropriate channel or sharing a relevant past conversation.
  • They connect apps to Slack that will improve team workflows.
  • They build a knowledge base of help materials directly inside Slack—pinning training documents to channels and answering FAQs that others can uncover via search.
  • They might host a skill share over lunch for a group of five to 10 close colleagues to demonstrate how they use Slack, as well as collect feedback.

These examples may require more dedicated effort in the earlier phases of the launch; however, champions continue to play a vital part throughout the journey, particularly as features and usage evolve.

In all these scenarios, a champion’s interactions should feel natural rather than formal. They’re the friends you’d tap on the shoulder with a question, not an official service desk that requires a ticket. They’re approachable and open to questions throughout the day.

Sharing is caring: the power of a champion network

One of the most effective ways champions can drive change is by connecting with one another. Within a single organization, this starts with a Slack channel, of course. Here, champions from all lines of business not only share ideas but also lessons learned. Get a great question from the team? Champions share it in the channel. Create a helpful piece of training material? Champions post it so that others can use it too.

We’ve also found that magic happens when you put champions from different companies in the same room together, through events like our annual Frontiers conference. Even more than a great networking opportunity, it’s a way to level up by sharing use cases and swapping stories.

Eric Hansen, a Slack Champion at Workday

“I was at a meet-up with [a champion] who’d been where we’re trying to go. Hearing how they balanced policy, security and convenience was really valuable. We [applied] many of those lessons.”

Eric Hansen
Slack champion at Workday

A champion’s job is essentially to help his or her teammates feel supported and empowered to use Slack in a way that eliminates friction from their day-to-day workflow. As communication expert Patti Sanchez has said, “Change is a never-ending process.” But by finding trustworthy informal leaders within your organization—people who are excited to learn continuously and share what they know with others—you can create a culture of consistent improvement that starts simple but propels you to even bigger, better changes ahead.

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