What is Viral Change™?
Change is push and pull
In one of our books, Homo Imitans, we describe two worlds. World I is the world of information. Information is packaged and cascaded down from the top of the organization, disseminated via communication campaigns and ‘rolled out’ with workshops. It is a push world. World II is the world of behaviours. Behaviours are exhibited by people and mostly copied by others. Who copies who, who influences whom is the key.
Behaviours don’t travel, let alone change, via PowerPoint. You can describe them in posters and slides but they are only real when people practice them. World II is a pull world, an infection world. My behaviours are pulling other people’s behaviours and I am in turn pulled by the behaviours around me. Viral Change™ is behavioural change at a scale, the way to create a positive social infection.
Only behavioural change is real change
You can map new processes and re-arrange the organization chart. Install a new corporate software (ERP, CRM, etc.) and explain to people why this is good and necessary. Create a massive communication and training campaign and make sure that everybody has clearly understood where to go. Perhaps you’ve done this already and noticed that many people hang on to the old ways. That is because there is no change unless there is behavioural change. It is only when new behaviours have become the norm that you can say that real change has occurred. If you want a new culture, change behaviours. Cultures are not created by training.
Viral Change™: model, method and way of life, all in one
Viral Change™ uses the power of a small set of well-defined non-negotiable behaviours, spread by small groups of highly connected individuals within the organization. Their peer-to-peer influence – more powerful than hierarchical one – creates new norms, new ways of doing, new cultures. When groups start doing things the new way, other groups follow. Stories of success spread. Stories are memorable, behaviours are contagious… bullet points are not. There are great similarities between biological infection and idea infection. For proof, just look at any social phenomenon around you!
Viral Change™ is a way to understand the organization as an organism instead of a machine. It is a method to create large scale change to meet specific business objectives. It is also a day-to-day way of life in the organization in a permanent state of readiness. If you want to master any of these, we’ll be there to guide and work with you.
There are significant differences between Viral Change™ and the traditional ways to approach management of change. The traditional way is linear: big problems need big solutions, big programmes, and big communication cascading down. Viral Change™ is non-linear (like life!): problems or challenges of any size can be dealt with by a small, well-chosen set of critical, non-negotiable behaviours, which are practiced and spread by a relatively small number of highly influential people. This creates a critical (and growing) mass of followers who copy each other, shaping change faster and more effectively. The key to success is the orchestration of this.
Here is a summary of the 10 main differences:
|The Traditional Way||Viral Change™|
|1.Mechanistic view of the organization (‘the organization’)||Organisms as a model of the organization (‘the organism’)|
|2. Top-down change and leadership||Multi-centric change and distributed leadership, grass roots-like. Several small fires in different places on a mountain create a big fire|
|3. Hierarchical influence is explicitly or tacitly driven||Peer-to-peer influence more important than hierarchical when it comes to culture|
|4. Emphasis on processes (‘behaviours are a consequence’)||Emphasis on behaviours and the behavioural DNA of the organization, needed to sustain new processes|
|5. ‘Telling people’ what to do takes most air time||Selling ideas to people and getting buy-in through peer influence is the real engine|
|6. Communication, communication, communication||Activism: ‘I am doing x, what about you?’|
|7. Advocacy at best: ‘this is good, follow me’ t||Activism: ‘I am doing x, what about you?’|
|8. Formal programme. ‘Another corporate initiative’ (talk>act)||Well designed informality. Many times silent, often invisible (act>talk)|
|9. ‘Tsunami’: everybody involved, massive communication, then pray||‘Butterfly’: small changes multiplied a thousand times by a champions community (see Viral Change™ book)|
|10. External change experts in every corner||Internal engine of leadership (Champions) supported semi-invisibly by a joint (consulting & client) small team|
The Traditional Way
- Mechanistic view of the organization (‘the organization’)
- Top-down change and leadership
- Hierarchical influence is explicitly or tacitly driven
- Emphasis on processes (‘behaviours are a consequence’)
- ‘Telling people’ what to do takes most air time
- Communication, communication, communication
- Advocacy at best: ‘this is good, follow me’ t
- Formal programme. ‘Another corporate initiative’ (talk>act)
- ‘Tsunami’: everybody involved, massive communication, then pray
- External change experts in every corner
- Organisms as a model of the organization (‘the organism’)
- Multi-centric change and distributed leadership, grass roots-like. Several small fires in different places on a mountain create a big fire
- Peer-to-peer influence more important than hierarchical when it comes to culture
- Emphasis on behaviours and the behavioural DNA of the organization, needed to sustain new processes
- Selling ideas to people and getting buy-in through peer influence is the real engine
- Infection of ideas and behaviours. Social movement
- Activism: ‘I am doing x, what about you?’
- Well designed informality. Many times silent, often invisible (act>talk)
- ‘Butterfly’: small changes multiplied a thousand times by a champions community (see Viral Change™ book)
- Internal engine of leadership (Champions) supported semi-invisibly by a joint (consulting & client) small team
To hear our thoughts on why traditional top-down change management programmes don’t work, particularly in today’s challenging environment, watch our recent webinar:
The Myths of Change.
How Viral Change™ works
As a method, the Viral Change™ journey is divided into five phases, not all of them are as sequential as represented. The key focus for each phase is described below. The duration of each phase varies depending on where the change process starts.
Discovery: creating or revisiting a vision, uncovering and articulating non negotiable behaviours ; mapping the networks of change, uncovering the real influence within the organization.
Development: identifying peer groups and visualizing peer-to-peer influence, aligning management, calling selected people to participate Engagement: creation of a community of change agents with a particular profile and enlisting them, helping them with their role; aligning further leaders and managers.
Engagement: creation of a community of change agents with a particular profile and enlisting them, helping them with their role; aligning further leaders and managers.
Diffusion: behaviours spread, the community of champions is supported; peer to peer influence is orchestrated and supported; progress is tracked and evaluated; stories of success are spread; the social movement is in action.
Sustain: key behaviours are now embedded, new directions are evaluated, the agents community ends as such, re-directions and re-focus may make a new journey restart.
The Five Disciplines of Viral Change™
The Five Disciplines of Viral Change™ are the competences of the modern organization, the way to understand the dynamics of the firm today where agility, true employee engagement and bottom-up leadership shape everyday life.
The Five Disciplines are connected, but each of them deserves focus (understanding, training, enabling, becoming excellent at..) in their own right.
Non Negotiable Behaviours
The new organizational focus is behaviours, not process and systems; these are the baseline, a pass, a given.
How to maximize influence and trust within the firm; hierarchical influence is a given (over-estimated), peer-to-peer
influence is the true engine
The Informal Organization
Formal structures are a given, the default; most of the neat stuff happens in informal social networks, ignore them at your
Storytelling is not new, although still largely ignored by many business organizations; mastering the art of using the right
stories to accelerate a new corporate narrative.
Top-down leadership is a given; the real engine of leadership is distributed around the organization in the form of highly
influent people, whose influence does not depend on the job description or title.
The Five Disciplines of Viral Change™ are described in the book ‘Homo Imitans. The art of social infection, viral change in action’ by Leandro Herrero (meetingminds, 2011) .
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To change to ‘the new normal’ we must think and act differently in the management of our organizations.
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