Are new ideas welcomed by your organization, institution, or group? Or are new ideas greeted with suspicion? Think about your idea in the context of the power dynamics of your organization. Are key stakeholders threatened by your idea? Why? Do they like your idea? Why? The key to understanding the impact of new ideas is your capacity to clarify the needs and intentions of stakeholders.
Agenda movers appreciate that organizations are not harmonized bodies. Organizations are made up of individuals, and however well those individuals work together in pursuit of the collective good, there is a natural divergence of perspectives, needs, and goals. In the organizational context, individuals and groups differ in their intentions, even with regard to common goals. Organizations are political systems. In trying to move change and innovation, you must first classify the stakeholders.
Top Dogs are the organizational decision makers, those with official authority and veto power. All organizational activity happens on their watch. To paraphrase Harry Truman, the buck stops with them. Top Dogs have the authority to approve decisions--and to torpedo them.
Top Dogs may choose to act or not to act. They may be passive or proactive. Ultimately, they have the capacity to dictate what happens and what doesn't. Some small ideas can be implemented without the approval of the Top Dog, but without their support, bigger ideas will wither on the vine.
Smaller organizations typically have one Top Dog. But you might find multiple Top Dogs in a larger organization, especially if the central power position is ceremonial in nature.
Gatekeepers have segmented authority. That is, they have authority over a limited set of issues, and they liaison between the Top Dog(s) and the rest of the organization. Though Gatekeepers are formally under the supervision of the Top Dog, they are often left alone to make decisions that fall within their purview. The Gatekeeper may be an individual, but typically gatekeepers are found in a group, like senior management or the finance committee.
Gatekeepers are going to want a full look at your initiative before helping to move it forward. You should be as cooperative as you can be with Gatekeepers. Other stakeholders heed the opinions of the Gatekeepers, and will be more likely to join you if they know the Gatekeepers are on board.
Gurus are organizational actors who are not involved in the daily life of the organization. They can be senior individuals with a unique perspective, such as external consultants, the board of directors, or others who have influence with the decision makers. External consultants can be a sounding board for senior management when discussing new ideas.
Be aware of others in the organization who can weigh in on virtually any issue, such as a chief of staff. These individuals, though on the periphery, have influence because of their unique position in the organization. Gurus may be difficult to identify and even more difficult to map accurately. Making yourself aware of their presence is an important step toward managing the influence they have with others in your organization.
Players are influential stakeholders whose specific activities will be directly impacted by your initiative. They are perhaps your most challenging constituency. While Players do not have broad formal authority, their influence comes from their deep understanding of the specific activities and technologies necessary get the job done. Players make things happen.
You will find that Players will be your most vocal detractors--and also your strongest supporters. Be very careful not to discount Players. Make sure to give them the attention they deserve. An overlooked or ignored Player can become your harshest critic.
It is important to remember that Players far outnumber Top Dogs, Gatekeepers, and Gurus. When thinking about the Players in your organization, don't forget to include your direct reports and subordinates. Don't assume that they will go along with your intent simply because you're the boss or have a measure of authority. You need to keep the Players that you supervise engaged as you move forward. They will be integral to your success once your initiative gets off the ground.