Monday, 21 January 2013

3/10 It’s about you, and between you (not us at the top, not the leadership team)

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

3/10   It’s about you, and between you (not us at the top, not the leadership team)

In one of the multiple accounts of the 2008 Obama campaign, David Plouffe, then campaign manager , now senior adviser in the current 2012 Administration, wrote in his book ‘The Audacity to Win’ about the importance of the grassroots movement. This may seem obvious and indeed common to many campaign and political strategies. What was different ( and it is today) in Obamaland is the extraordinary emphasis in the transversal, tribal, ‘people like me’ (see previous section)  connectivity and collaboration. Put it simply, the message was a persisting, its is about you talking to other people like you, not about Barack Obama talking to you. Of course Obama did talk to them, and indeed with superb rhetoric. So they were not short of top-down messages. But the campaign itself de-emphasised that at the expense of ‘you and between you’.

The 2012 Democrat campaign outnumbered the Republican one by several factors of magnitude in ‘local clusters’ and their ‘local organisers’. The ‘total numbers’ were less relevant that the clustering and the sense of belonging. It was about ‘them’: those local communities, local offices, local groups and the communication and connectivity between them. Then, technology comes in of course to facilitate it, and indeed it did (the ‘republican technology’ was well behind and for all purposes failed, there is not nicer way to put it)

We in organizations tend to dismiss a bit this tribal (‘its all about you’) element in favour of, perhaps,  it’s all about the objectives, or the strategy, or the guidelines form the top or even the vision. Obama and Co also had objectives, strategy, guidelines an vision but seemed  to say, don’t get distracted, focus on that vision but it is really, really, really about you: how you discuss it, what it means for you, what you can do, how you can bring in others.  This may seem obvious to many. Usually these are the people who would say that ‘things have changed a lot’ and the new organization is really bottom up. Let’s call a spade a spade. This is the exception.

 In our Viral Change programmes we focus 75% on the grassroots, bottom up ‘people like you’ and ‘it's all about you’ engine of change and 25% on the top down messaging. Messaging is very important indeed but it is very easy to steal air time with messaging and forget everything else. Messaging is the ‘push’. Viral Change™ orchestrates the ‘pull’. The more protagonists the grassroots are, the greater the scale up of behaviours.

We bring technology in (if we can and) Enterprise Micro Blogging systems such as Yammer play a fantastic role in the tribal connectivity. Again, many people get fascinated by the technology and forget that collaboration is a behaviour not  technological feature. In other words, connectivity is not collaboration.

A great deal of the ‘Communication industry’ spends a lot of time on the quality, quantity, effectiveness, measurement, channels etc  of messaging.  For obvious reasons! But communication is not change or engagement per se and it needs a good ‘pull effect’ to expand and multiply the message itself. Top down communicating systems follow an attrition model: big at the top, small in results. A good learning from the political strategists of Obamaland is that no matter how much of top-down communication they could provide ( and Mr Obama did!) what really was going to matter was that transversal, local clustering, ‘it's really about you’, grassroots organizations. Obama campaign was extremely successful because it was not a campaign but a social movement.  Viral Change™ orchestrates these social movements inside the organization and in the macro societal world.  Oh well, Obama did not call us but  the Viral Change was published first  in 2006 – maybe somebody …



Some of the differences between the campaigns and camps are well summarised in this Pinterest collection

David Plouffe’s ‘The Audacity to Win’ was published by Viking in 2009

Viral Change™ is described in two books, Viral Change™: the alternative to slow, painful and unsuccessful management of change in organizations (2006,2008) and Homo Imitans, the art of social infection. Viral Change™ in action  (2011) by Leandro Herrero


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

+44 (0) 1494 730999

Viral Change™ is a trademark

Next: 4/10

Neither top down, not bottom up. Grassroots and polycentric

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