Friday, 30 November 2007

Business Digest to devote dossier to Viral Change

Business Digest, a European publication on management and strategy, has been helping leaders improve their understanding of the corporate environment and its evolution since 1992. They are also a preferred partner of well-known experts such as HEC Executive Education, Key People Clubs, The European Club of Corporate Universities, WDHB Consulting Group and Crossknowledge. For December 2007, they are preparing a special issue on change.

Business Digest plans to devote one dossier solely to Dr Herrero's book, Viral Change, and the implementation of the Viral ChangeTM methodology in actual business situations. The dossier will consist of a 3-page review of the book and one or two interviews with top executives/managers whose companies have implemented Viral ChangeTM.

The Chalfont Project Ltd is delighted by this initiative and is working together with Business Digest to bring their readers full insight into the fresh approach of Viral ChangeTM.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

The answer to myth 15: People used to not complying with norms will be even worse at accepting change

Today we reach the final assumption in my list of 15 management myths, which I posted here.

And this particular assumption is based on very little. In my book, Viral Change, I show how deviant people can teach us a lot. People who are traditionally bad at accepting norms from the managerial plumbing system may, however, be good adopters of infections when particular behaviours have been reinforced in the peer-to-peer internal network of Champions. My anecdotal experience is one of inverse correlation. Non-normative people often make good Champions!

Viral Change is using completely different highways to establish ‘norms’. They come up as a consequence of behavioural routines that have been established after tipping points. So they come in with their reinforcement mechanisms attached.

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.

You can also read some of the resources on Viral Change posted on the left or contact us for more information.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

The answer to myth 14: There will always be casualties - people not accepting change - and you need to identify and deal with them

This assumption - and its equivalent, which we’ll look into in the next post - contains quite a lot of common sense. I have warned you several times before about preconceived ideas and I suggested a ‘suspend judgement’ policy. Yes, there will always be casualties, but you don’t know which ones. This assumption cries for leaders with significant emotional and social intelligence skills (in short supply), leaders who are able to read beyond the obvious and ask the question ‘why?’ Why the casualty? Happiness and unhappiness are part of our human nature. You can’t make people happy or unhappy. People make themselves happy or unhappy. I prefer happiness to unhappiness but can’t run a client engagement assuming that everybody is going to be happy. Unhappiness sometimes comes on the back of difficulty. What people might be saying is: “This is tough.”

Again, I would think twice before labelling the casualties. The death of many unhappy employees is sometimes grossly exaggerated. The statement also includes the words ‘accepting change’, so it contains the hidden famous assumption that people are resistant to change, which we have dealt with several times before. Viral change asks us not to make early assumptions. The power of internal networks enables them to deal with ‘receptive and non-receptive people’ far better than the managerial plumbing system. Inclusions and exclusions become very obvious after the peer-to-peer influence.

If some people do leave, make sure you take some time to look beyond the obvious ‘exit interview’. In such an exit interview, people tend to pay excessive attention to ‘what was wrong’. Incidentally, I prefer ‘stay interviews’, i.e., asking people why they are still here. From those who finally exclude themselves, we can learn not only what was ‘wrong’, but perhaps also what is going so well, that they can’t integrate it!

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

The answer to myth 13: Short-term wins are tactical but they do not usually represent real change

Obviously, some people don’t like ‘short wins’. These are usually the same people who do not consider change a valid label unless a big M&Ahas taken place. There is a semantic implication of ‘not-really-serious-change’. The world is rather bipolar here: some people love these short-term wins, others hate them.

Short-term wins are very much welcomed by Viral Change. We have said all along that small changes can lead to a big impact. So it is only natural that short-terms wins, or ‘win-wins, are part of the picture. The difference between the win-win/short-win in Viral Change and the one in conventional management of change is that in the latter, it usually means let’s fix what is small, visible and will make many people happy, a sure-sure bet, doable, sexy, it’s going to be rewarding. In Viral Change mode, small win-wins may be small, visible and will-make-many-people-happy, a sure-sure bet, doable, sexy, it’s going to be rewarding...or it may not be. This is not the judgement to make.

In Viral Change it’s not the easiness of the task that defines the ‘small’ quality. It is perhaps an atomic behaviour that by being reinforced creates a sense of possibility and that - when many of them are visible and ‘available’ - creates a tipping point of significance. There is small and then there is small: two types of small, two types of win-win. The statement above uses the word ‘tactical’ implying that there are strategic things and tactical things. Viral Change does not host that distinction. Apparently tactical things (the wide spread of a simple behaviour) have implications well beyond day-to-day tactics.

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

Thursday, 15 November 2007

The answer to myth 12: After change you need a period of stability and consolidation

Or so the troops sometimes say. After the third reorganisation and the fourth quality programme and the second change management initiative, the cry is loud: give us a break! Yes, stability would be nice. But the last time we had stability was around 1756 (give or take a 100 years). The current world is instable. The business environment is a chaotic moving target. You have to be very careful about the word ‘stability’.

Although the linguistics are logical, we must accept that real consolidation and real stability are not going to be a sort of ‘steady-state’. Many people in managerial ranks spend their life in rehearsal mode: I’ll do this when I have more people, when my headcount is full, when I’m given a new budget, etc. But in the meantime: things happen!

Viral Change provides a mechanism for a continuum between changes (from tipping points) and establishment of new behaviours as a routine. It also gives us the power of internal (viral) networks and their perception of ‘stability’ or ‘change’. It is legitimate to place borders and timelines on processes, but they are only useful as part of a code language. As we said in the previous assumption, it is only when ‘destination’ is absolutely fixed and unmovable that ‘the end of the change process’ makes sense. If you have reached X, well, that’s it! But if vision is more of a journey with the possibility of new discoveries, then when exactly would you be able to say that you have reached terra firma?

Viral Change forces you to see waves of change, more than a sequential journey from A to B to C. Your concept of stability or consolidation may never be the same!

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.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

The answer to myth 11: Vision for change needs to come from the top and cascade down

I don’t know whether ‘it needs to’ or whether it just happens to be the observable norm. It really depends on the use you make of the word ‘vision’. If your vision is something close to the ultimate managerial clairvoyance only hosted on the executive floor, then… well, it may cascade down. I think the main reason why an executive floor is at the top of the building is so the cascading down of the vision takes place with the full use of the forces of gravity! If vision is a clear point of destiny, then there is no point expecting this to come from the Post Room (and this is not a judgement about the ability of people in the post room to have a vision).

If your view of vision is more one of directions that can be refined, can grow, can benefit from the ‘none of us is smarter than all of us’ philosophy, then Viral Change is something you’ll be very comfortable with. Viral Change creates waves of infections and emergent tipping points. Allowing for (real) distributed leadership means that there is no ‘pre-defined final outcome’ (a scary thought for those in the command and control arena), but unpredictable, non-linear and potentially incredibly better outcomes.

In Viral Change, initial vision may come from the top leadership itself but it doesn’t follow the forces of gravity. Oh horror! How do I know that people are going in the right direction and aren’t drifting? Well, get involved! You are defining the non-negotiable behaviours and therefore you are the master of those hot topics. If they are reinforced as planned, you’ll have an incredibly hi-fi machine. At which point, ‘the top’ as a geographical signpost becomes irrelevant.

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

Thursday, 8 November 2007

The answer to myth 10: Sceptical people and enemies of change need to be sidelined

We all have our share of ‘difficult people’. Conventional management of change has taught us that there is always going to be a group of ‘no-hope’ people and another group of ‘maybe-but-very-sceptical-people’. It smells like a bell curve! There is nothing wrong with the talk. We all know what we mean by it. My warning is against premature labelling and self-fulfilling prophecies.

A converted sceptic is worth 100 disciplined followers, because (a) an imitation of his ‘conversion’ may draw a small world of its own into the change and (b) the ‘conversion’ itself is social proof and legitimization. (“If Peter is involved, maybe this is for real at last”, I heard in a client meeting). Our ‘internal segmentation’ often reads like this:

  • Good guys: going for it, get them all on board.
  • Resistant guys: they will never change, be prepared to let them go.
  • Sceptical guys: mainly a pain, either they will ‘get it’ and change, or else’.

Viral Change has the following words of wisdom: suspend judgement, be willing to be surprised and, above all, don’t write off the assets that quickly. Mary, the one who is systematically sceptical, may well be so for a reason. And she may see vital change as a real opportunity for real change and see a role for herself in its model of distributed leadership. A sceptic may be one of your best Champions. Alice, a wonderfully loyal employee, always ready for change, may have been taken for granted. But Alice, recently promoted to section manager, may not fancy the idea of Change Champions going around apparently bypassing her hierarchy. She may become a wonderfully unhappy and unsupportive employee. Do not sideline anyone! Let’s first see who the final characters are in the tipping points plots!

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

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

The answer to myth 9: There is no point in creating change in one division without the rest of the company participating

Even people in a part of the organisation that feels passionate about change and embraces the principles of Viral Change, often have this nagging feeling about what the extent of it all will be, if the rest of the divisions (or the corporation, or headquarters, or everybody else) don’t do the same. In the worst case, this thinking leads to paralysis or a delay in the ‘change process’ until – or so they hope - others have understood and bought in. Which, incidentally, may never happen!

There is little doubt that changes in one group or division have the potential to create antibodies in the rest, or will simply be rejected or alienated. It may be tough. However, as leaders, one has to ask the question: what can I do that is within my control? Simply asking this question many times results in revelations such as: actually, a lot. Organisations have great capacity to host models in a symbiotic way. Change needs to start somewhere.

Viral Change focuses on the spread of changes via internal viral networks. In many cases, once the tipping points have occurred, their visibility goes beyond the borders of the organisation, and other divisions or groups may copy or start thinking about copying the changes. There is so much you can do via Viral Change within the borders under your control.

People who accept the idea of ‘try-and-see-what-happens’ have invented the word ‘pilot’. It seems as if ‘piloting’ is acceptable, but ‘here-we-go-for-real-change’ is not. Viral Change could be done through pilots, but we would be prostituting terminology. There are no ‘pilots’, only real life spread of infections. My advice is: start now!

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

Thursday, 1 November 2007

The answer to myth 8: People are rational and will react to logical and rational requests for change

Yes, we want to believe that. Rational appeal (B is better than A, we should go with B) is a logical, pervasive mechanism. We use it all the time. And so we should. But in itself it doesn’t ensure change. People are able to understand the rationality of things and do appreciate that they are told things that way. But rational understanding does not guarantee (a) emotional integration or (b) behavioural change. How many times have we used the expression: ‘he or she doesn’t get it’, as if the intellectual and rational click has not been heard inside the brain?

We spend an enormous amount of time appealing to rationality, perhaps because we have a too high regard of ourselves as rational monkeys! We also spend time and energy on emotional massage: the country-house hotel with ‘motivational speakers’ is an example of this. What happens after the initial injection of rationality and emotions? Energy levels go down and reality takes over. Unless we have a daily motivational speaker and a daily meeting to appeal for rational change, we have a weak case for ‘change will follow’.

Viral Change tells us that what really matters is behavioural change and that this is only going to happen if particular behaviours are reinforced (reward, recognition, airtime, any good reinforcement). This reinforcement comes from (a) management and (b) peers. As you may know by now, Viral Change attempts to get management reinforcement as a given (which is sometimes a lot to ask, I admit!), but it banks quite a lot on the power of peer-to-peer reinforcement, mainly through the internal (viral) network of the Change Champions. Appeals for rationality? Great as a one-off. After that, behavioural reinforcement is the only thing that will make the change happen.

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