Tuesday, 23 October 2007

The answer to myth 5: Everybody needs to be involved in the change

This is an obvious desideratum. But very often it’s unrealistic. Conventional management approaches tell us that we have to communicate everything to everybody so that everybody feels involved. There are different versions of this. In some cases what it means is ‘we really need to involve everybody’. In other cases, it means we need to ‘reach everybody’ so that (a) everybody has a chance to jump in or (b) nobody can say that they haven’t been ‘involved’…

Since traditional management and conventional management of change use ‘communication-to-all’ as a default vehicle, it is not surprising that the tsunami approach is the prevailing one. (I describe two different approaches to change management in my book, Viral Change: the tsunami approach – where big actions are taken, big communication and training programmes to all, washing over the entire company like a tsunami – and the butterfly approach – Viral Change at its best: small events/actions making big changes.) However, our understanding of networks in general and social networks in particular has changed things forever. A small percentage of the organisation is highly connected and is potentially of high influence. Communication-to-all is the most ineffective way to convey the rationale for changes and for expecting that involvement will follow.

You are better off using networks as a vehicle. I am not suggesting that communication is not needed. It is, but we usually have ‘massive communication’ as the single mechanism of hope. Viral Change uses the power of internal networks and their small worlds to effectively reach everybody, but not in the supposedly democratic way of the Town Hall meeting roll-outs. At any point in time, there will be different levels of ‘receptiveness’ in the population and the spread will happen in an erratic way. However, when this is happening, it is not just ‘communication’ as a currency that will follow through. It is endorsement, new behaviours, reinforcements and changes, all in one. Viral Change likes to talk less and do more... with better and faster results.

If you want to read more about Viral Change, or want to revisit some of the other myths, you can read it all again in my book of the same title: Viral Change: the alternative to slow, painful and unsuccessful management of change in organisations.

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