Saturday, 15 December 2012

Yes I can (profile you)


Un-managing change
10 lessons from Obamaland to the design of large scale behavioural change in organizations.  Viral Change™ in action series
 10 reflections on the conditions for large scale change  as practiced by Viral Change™
by Leandro Herrero
Yes I can ( profile you) 1 of 10   

It should be pretty obvious to all of us working in organizations  of some sort, but the social network of the organization  (the social network IS the organization) is not equalitarian. There is no democracy in the distribution of influence and connectivity between individuals. There is not even a Bell curve or normal distribution. It’s a power law. Small number of people have high levels in influence and connectivity, large numbers of people have low levels. And once you have high levels you tend to acquire more (Mathew effect, described in Viral Change™) 

The top-down communication systems in which most management practices are based upon assume equality and uniformity. Translation: everybody is equal, everybody needs to hear the (same) message, everybody needs to get the cascaded down powerpoints. This is what I describe as ‘World I’ in Homo Imitans (you can download that chapter here). ‘World I’ is an attrition model. Start aiming at all, and efficiency goes down in the information tsunami. At the end a few people pay attention, let alone do something about it. ‘World II’, which is behavioural based as opposed to information and messages, is a scale up model: some people start doing something, other copy, critical mass appears and eventually a large number  of people are doing something (new) good or bad... I have explained elsewhere how we need both to work in tandem (Viral Change™ (2006,2008); Homo Imitans (2011)

But let’s go back to the reluctance of the network to buy equality and uniformity. The HR produced Bell curve which defines an average  (of people) as  performing well, a few on one side doing very well and a very few excellent; and in the other side a mirror of doing not so  well and less underperforming, tells us noting about the ability of people to influence others, whether they have positive or negative influence, are sceptical or not, engaged or not , supporters or disenfranchised etc.  It’s sad that the climax of employee mapping often used by HR can tell us so little about the employee ‘social GPS’ position in the company. And, for the record, no, the Bell Curve people and the Power Law people do not correlate

Incidentally, this assumption of ‘equality of all employees’, certainly equal as human beings but not equal on performance – according to your own Bell curve – and not equal in influence/connectivity/engagement according to our Viral Change™ power law, is  in Organization Development and management practices a mirror of the old problem of Economics. The entire Economics is based upon the assumption of the rationality of people but there is a small problem, many of us behave pretty irrational. The entire ‘new’ Behavioural Economics discipline  was born as a result. We have a mirror problem: our HR systems assume equality of employees  (again, for good reasons of fairness, let alone Employment Law) but this assumption is useless particularly to understand change

Political campaigns  a la Obama have long understood, and recently mastered the art: profiling. It sounds a bit technical and market-research but what it means is that in this approach there is no point to treat everybody the same. A connected mum very active in school and worried about education funding or education quality gets no personal message (by the local activists)  about health care reform, youth employment , let alone the Iran threat. Profiling is hardly a new concept but the Obama movement/campaign has refined this to its best and at a micro-level not just as a macro-social phenomena. This has been possible due to the smart use of gigantic data available, sophisticated technology and an obsession with de-centralisation and grass roots (topics I will address is the rest of these series). Incidentally the Republican party had access to same data but was very bad as its use, the technology failed them and there were not near as de-centralised and localized as the Obama camp.

There is a lot to learn from us within the organization. At the very least we need to review the way we have most of our HR/OD/Management practices practically blind to ‘micro-profiling’. Everybody gets the same message, same interpretation, same PowerPoint, same stories. The old fashioned and failure prone ‘management of change models’ are  very weak at profiling because they are based upon that lack of understanding on how the social network works. These models are  very poor because whether explicit or not  understand the organization  as the one represented by the organizational chart.

In our Viral Change™ programme we take time at profiling small groups of individuals who many not be very high in the hierarchy but have a tremendous ability to pull other peoples behaviours. These (distributed) leaders are the real engine of change. Our primary engagement is with them,  not the entire organization.  Yes we can  (orchestrate large scale change) More to come


The ‘yes we can profile you’  was the heading of an article by Daniel Kreiss, at the Stanford Law Review Online, 2 February 2012

For a detailed (too detailed) and fascinating account of the progression of sophistication in targeting and profiling in US politics, read The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning
Campaigns by Sasha Issenberg ( Crown Publishing Group, 2012)

Viral Change™ is describe din two boks, Viral Change™: the alternative to slow, panful and unsuccessful management of change in organizations (2006,2008) and Homo Imitans, the art of social infection. Viral Change™ in action  (2011) by LeandroHerrero


Viral Change™ Global L.LP. PO Box 1192, HP9 IYQ, United Kingdom

Viral Change™ is a trademark
Next: 2/10  It’s tribal (people like me, one of us), reinvent the organization chart

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