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June 2014
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TD Magazine

Word Wiz: Snowball Sampling

We all know too well the likelihood of change management efforts to fail—employee resistance usually is too strong of a force to be overcome by PowerPoint-driven all-staff meetings, mass emails, and posters in the break room. To assuage employee resistance, a grassroots approach is needed. Organizations need to enlist their "informal influencers" to champion the change—employees who, regardless of role or title, have the ability to engage and motivate their peers.

One handy technique any change management professional can use is snowball sampling, a survey method borrowed from social scientists studying populations reluctant to participate in formal research (for example, gang members).

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Here's how to use it in the workplace: Brief initial surveys ask participants to identify peers who they think should be invited to participate in the research. Then, those employees are asked to identify who they think should participate, snowballing into a robust survey sample. Trust is maintained because referrals are made anonymously.

Snowball sampling can reveal the networks of influence operating below the radar, and identify the employees to whom others look for feedback, advice, and opinions on what is really happening inside the organization.

About the Author

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.

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