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. And of course , not your CEO. 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 at the cafeteria, or in the car park. My peers.
Here is 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 the South. Actually, I think South is a lousy option. Why South for goodness sake!?
If you, my peer, mate, water cooler friend, car park talker, school run sharer, co-smoker, tribal member, colleague in the same division, free mutual psychotherapist and somebody ‘I know well’ comes to me and in the middle of a football game, or school run, or holiday, or dreadful journey says to me ‘By the way, we really must go South’, then my brain may be suddenly aroused by the unexpected and I may even have one or two questions such as ‘Are you on something?’ but the chances of me considering 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 but I did not expect you to let me know your belief in South with the same sincerity as shared in our twenty other conversations. Call it trust (Edelman does) or legitimization or for me, comfort, South is very credible.
If on top of this you say to me ‘we really must go South’ and that you are actually going South yourself, the chances of my doing the same are even higher. And most of this process may even be unconscious.
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 peer-to-peer (horizontal) mechanisms. In fact, they are ignored. The emphasis is vertical. You to your direct reports, your direct reports to their direct reports and so on. Ditto in public sector, societal campaigns: doctors to patients, social workers to dysfunctional families, priests to immigrants, and community leaders to gang members. Viral Change™ activists work through informal networks of recovered patient to patient, ex-dysfunctional family to dysfunctional, settled to immigrant and ex-gang member to violent groups in the streets.
The power of peer-to-peer networks is formally called to arms in Viral Change™ programmes. 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.
(Good CEOs and top leaders react: fantastic! Now we know who has the power. )