Monday, 27 August 2007

Social networks inside (and the structured/un-structured dilemma)

I have been answering some LinkedIn questions and I thought I would post one of them. The question was about the use of internal (to the firm) Linked-In type of tools and, by default, the structure/unstructured sides of the organizations. This are my comments:

This is at the core of my work as organizational consultant. I have developed the theme of structured/non structured collaboration –within a given organization – in my book Viral Change™ Although the book ( as my own work) is geared towards change in organizations, the basis for change lies on ‘what kind of model of organization’ one has in mind. The traditional top-down and ‘organization-chart structure’ ‘requires’ the cascade-down conventional change management programme designed by academics and sold by consultants where everything is linear and sequential. I call it ‘Tsunami approach’. The understanding of the organization as a network-base biological organism will not cope with that approach. Viral Change™ occurs when a small set of behaviours, is modelled and spread by a small number of people through their networks of influence (‘Butterfly approach’) creating tipping points where new routines become visible and established. It is infection versus cascade down ‘rational appeal to all’.

There are some organizations that have been designed from the decentralised, network based angle and, as such, there will be examples in their own rights. The best compilation I have seen of such examples is in the book The Starfish and the spider. There is a website Visa is featured ( as pointed out by Andrew in your answers). BUT, the point I am making in my book (and work) is that ALL organizations have a component of network-based, un-structured communication and collaboration, largely (but not totally) invisible and traditionally ignored by management (‘if we don’t see it we can’t manage it’) There is always a tension between the structured and unstructured sides of the organization and the results of that tension dictates many aspects of their effectiveness.

Looking at examples such as Google (which contains by the way a great percentage of ‘structured’) or Selmer’s only, may be misleading since the average corporation (my clients!) will never go that way! My work focuses on trying to make the leadership of the organization understand the hidden networks first and then embrace their invisibility. Viral Change is just one application of that change of mindset.

Finally, the use of intra-firm social networks tools for the hidden, largely invisible side of the firm is almost unknown in large corporations. Those tools would replace a great deal of email, traffic. Extra problem is that if management hijacks them they will be effectively ‘structuring’ an un-structured collaboration, which will write its death certificate. I could go for hours here (!) but I hope my comments help

Monday, 20 August 2007

Networks, economics and politics

Albert-László Barabási is a physicist whose study of networks has brought good light to the understanding of many network-phenomena. I quote his work in depth in the book Viral Change because his approach is crucial to understand how change works inside the organization. To my knowledge my book is pioneer in the application of network theory to the specifics of change management. Now Albert-László Barabási with another physicist has come to the rescue to the socio-political question of why some countries develop in different ways, from economic and political perspective. This is of course a.. er… small question.

Two economists and two physicists get together and map the products developed by some countries and their associate complexity in development. A full article in Slate is s good summary of the authors paper in Science. Here is a quote from the article: "The physicists' map shows each economy in this network of products, by highlighting the products each country exported. Over time, economies move across the product map as their export mix changes. Rich countries have larger, more diversified economies, and so produce lots of products—especially products close to the densely connected heart of the network. East Asian economies look very different, with a big cluster around textiles and another around electronics manufacturing, and—contrary to the hype—not much activity in the products produced by rich countries. African countries tend to produce a
few products with no great similarity to any others." Worth reading.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Cultural change? Change behaviours

A typical case of “change culture” need arises in sales forces that have been created with strong individualistic ethos. You have hired people able to sell ice to Eskimos and for years rewarded them with big bonus for their individual sales performance.

Now you have discovered that the Darwinian system that has worked in the past may not be suitable in a new environment where collaboration and sharing information between people is key to your strategy (for example combined sales forces with new and old territories all in one).

In cultural terms you have a great individualistic culture and you want to change it to a great collaborative culture, and still meet the targets. Cultural discussions will take you to painful territories. You are better off “forgetting the culture” and translating the change into behavioural change.

What is that the rep and district manager now have to do different and how are you going to reward the new behaviours?

Since there was perhaps no habit of collaboration you may need to start with a bit of social-engineering and create initiatives that require by definition, and in their own merit, people talking to people and sharing data. These need to be rewarded. Individualistic non-sharing doesn’t get any reward anymore. These kind of process are extremely powerful.

Despite common belief, the way people behave can be changed very quickly. It’s a psychological nonsense to believe that is not. Surprisingly, many people in business believe that it is difficult or impossible. This is in total contradiction with day life in the social and political arena where behaviours shift in hours.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

People are resistant to change = fantastic alibi to justify slow, painful and unsuccessful change

The management-of-change world is full of mythology constantly reinforced by the Big Consulting Police which understands change as something intrinsically big, painful, In my book “Viral Change: the alternative to slow, painful and unsuccessful management of change in organizations” (meetingminds, 2007) I describe how I do it, and how 15 myths, one of them ‘people are resistant to change’ need to be revisited. Top down management-of-change techniques, which I call ‘tsunami approach, understand the organisation as a mechanic-hydraulic system of bits and pieces, instead of a biological organism with ‘networks inside’. There is a short audio-visual in our website.

Let me address myth number one or, should I say, the mother of all myths: people are resistant to change. I have taken from the book these comments:

“There is nothing in our biology that makes us resistant to change! We are not resistant to change. We are change. But we can act in defence of things that can disturb our level of control over things. And this is a very different matter. We saw in an earlier chapter of the book that this is one of the assumptions that have become part of the furniture in the change management field.

However, we know that resisting behaviours, which come in lots of forms and shapes, always mean something. We need to look beyond the ‘it is human nature’ parapet and see why things are happening that way. To assume there is resistance by default is not healthy.

Viral change proves that behaviours that could be called resistant disappear when alternative behaviours are reinforced. In Viral change, we make extra efforts to lead that assumption out the door and to suspend judgement. When people see the endorsement of peers, some behaviours-of-change in other parts of the organization, the incipient tipping points...many resistances will unexpectedly disappear.

Viral change also asks you to suspend judgement until you see how the infection spreads. Some notoriously resistant people - possibly labelled like that from the start (‘Mary will never change’) - may become converted ambassadors, while some ‘safe people’ (‘John and Peter are OK, they will jump in’) might become difficult and truly ‘resistant’.