Tuesday, 8 January 2013

It’s tribal (people like me, one of us), reinvent the organization chart (2 of 10)

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
Let me introduce you to Walter. Walter is a  91 year old World War II Veteran from Maryland  who can be found with a cell phone in his hand  in a video in one (or many) of the Obama campaign sites. He is fighting a new war. His ammunition consists of a laptop and that cell phone. He is in his house and is calling people from  a list shown in the laptop’s screen. I suspect neither the laptop not the cell phone is his. He is following a script (also on screen) and is calling people of his age (more or less). One of the first things he says after hello, I am Walter, is ‘I am voting for Obama’. I will deal with the significance of this expression of ‘intention to vote’ in another post.

 Walter is campaigning. He is talking to his peers. He is not talking to 20 or 30  year olds. He is engaging with people (from the list) who from the other side may hear and feel Walter as being ‘one of them, ‘somebody like me’. Technically (for us in the business of large scale change, Viral Change™ ) he is exercising ‘peer to peer influence’.

 The power of peer to peer is underestimated in organizations. Not that it is unknown, after all we all have heard or used the expression ‘peer pressure’ but this is where the ‘curiosity’ stops. People  don’t know what to make of it, and, incidentally, it always sounds bad…

Now get yourself a copy of the Edelman Trust Barometer. The Edelman company produces an excellent annual report on trust (organizations, industries, geographies…) and year after year, with some minor variations, the lowest source of internal organizational trust (for the purposes of ‘believing’ what’s going on with your company) is the CEO. Let’s be kind. It means the top hierarchy, not that absolutely charming and well mannered CEO who is on TV from time to time. The highest source of trust however  (with a glitch in favour of ‘academics’ last year)  is ‘people like me’, that’s it, people like you and me, one of us, our horizontal tribe, the ones we talk to everyday and talk football or cricket or baseball, take the children to similar schools, more or  less same age, ‘my mates’; you may be one rank above me or two, or below, but that does not really matter around the water cooler, or the cafeteria, or in the car park. My peers.

 And here is the beauty ( and the trick). If my super-Vice-president comes to me and tells me that we have to go South, I will say OK, and perhaps I may even ask why, but, I’ll go South. He thinks South is good. The CEO thinks South is good. The Strategic Plan says that South is good.  I am not sure about South. Actually I think South is a lousy option. Why South for goodness sake!?

 f you,  my peer, mate, water cooler friend, car park talker, school run share, last night football absorbed, tribal member, colleague in the same division, free mutual psychotherapist and somebody ‘I do know well’ comes to me and in the middle of a football,  or school or holiday or dreadful journey conversation say to me, ‘by the way, we really must go South’, my brain may be suddenly aroused out of the unexpected and I may even have one or two questions such as ‘ are you on something?’ but the chances of me believing that, at the very least, South is now a very reasonable, maybe even extraordinary destination, are very very high indeed, a few hundred points above the same message coming from my Super Vice-president.  I expected him to support South, I did not expected you to let me know your belief in South with the same sincerity as our twenty other conversations. Call it trust (Edelman does) or legitimization or comfort to me, South is very credible.

 If on top of this you say to me not only that ‘we really must go South’ but that you are actually going South yourself, the chances of me doing the same are even higher. And most of this process may even be unconscious. Our mind has a wonderful Reverse Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the neuronal system and we may even end up ‘really’, ‘seriously thinking’ that North was really very very silly after all.  Psychologists call this ‘cognitive dissonance’ which is a fancy name for saying  that we tend to produce comforting feelings to our decisions even if they contradict our previous thinking (‘I am terribly late, well the concert was not that good’)

The power of peer-to-peer is formally called to arms in Viral Change™ programmes whether inside the organization or in the public arena. One of the  sub-chapters of the book Homo Imitans reads ‘ youth to youth, granny to granny’ to make the point of this transversal power. Decades of traditional management have largely ignored this in favour of the top down, hierarchical, cascaded down tsunami of information and guidelines. In terms of behavioural change, and large scale behavioural and cultural change in particular, the score is Peer to per 10, top management nil. Obama campaign managers have understood this. Walter understands this. Walter is thrilled to be asked. The 78 year old young fellow at the other end does not mind to hear from Walter. Walter is,  at that crucial point of human interactions,  more credible than Obama himself.

Nothing in our traditional view of the organization let alone the supreme representation of the corporations’ plumbing system, the organization chart, says anything about the Walter-to-Walter mechanisms. In fact, they are ignored. The emphasis is you to your direct reports, your direct reports to their direct reports and so on.  Ditto in public sector, societal campaigns. Traditionalists work doctor to patient, social worker to dysfunctional family, priest to immigrants, and community leaders to gang members. Viral Change™ activists work recovered patient to patient, ex-dysfunctional family to dysfunctional, settled to immigrant and ex-gang member to violent group in the streets. Viral Change™ Activists 10, Traditionalists nil. OK, 1, or 2, or 3, in a good day.

In  Viral Change™ we reinvent the organization chart, we work with Walters and we orchestrate bottom up, grass-roots, polycentric leadership, change of ways of doing, fixing of problems, and  shaping of new cultures.  The CEOs, C-anything of our client organizations in Viral Change mode love Walters and are thrilled that Walters are the real leaders.  Obama loves Walter.


The Edelman Trust Barometer has its own page at http://trust.edelman.com/

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

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