I am delighted that a McKinsey article on ‘change’ in October 2014 (‘Build a change platform, not a change program’) finally attempts to catch up with what I first published in 2006, 2008 (Viral Change TM) and in 2011 (Homo Imitans), and what my team has been successfully implementing in organizations across the world since 2002. Even if 8 years late, I appreciate the attempt to understand and acknowledge that traditional ‘change programmes’ don’t tend to work. Thanks Mr.Hamel.
However, to illustrate how much is still to be done, here is a paragraph from the article:
‘Management literature is rich with case studies of bottom-up, spontaneous change and of product and business innovation sparked by the efforts of frontline activists. Inspiring as such stories are, however, few of these efforts effect systemic change across an entire organization. Internal activism and small wins don’t easily scale. Neither do they address the core management systems, processes, and cultural norms that dictate how large organizations run.’
Of course they don’t. It’s the wrong approach. The trouble is that internal activism needs to be orchestrated in the same way that you have to do in a political campaign. Having a bunch of political activists sitting and talking in a campaign office does not guarantee any victory. Having hundred or thousands of them committed and passionate will not guarantee a successful campaign. Spontaneous activism is great but I want to re-direct that spontaneity. A structure is needed or nobody will be elected. This structure is what Viral Change (TM) provides in driving large scale behavioural and cultural change.
The authors, like others before them, seem to advocate, or at least are very sympathetic to, the proliferation of ‘change people’, ‘rebels’, ‘radicals’, and perhaps passionate employees willing to do something. Without a structure these efforts will fade in the same way as the top down change systems do. ‘Structure’ is not a “Change Day”, an explosion of commitment in a one-off effort, a corporate flash-mob of pledges, as the authors seem to showcase. These efforts, of course, are better than nothing. The non trivial question is what happens after the fireworks.
Again, the political campaign is the model. Rallies? Yes, but they don’t win elections in their own. Activists? Sure, a term we have been using for years in Viral Change (TM) but highly focused and led with precision navigation. Commitments? Of course but forget it if you’re talking about 100 committed people going in 100 different directions.
As an aside, the prestigious author, Gary Hamel, advocates for top leaders who are enablers, not change agents. Yes. This is our Backstage Leadership (TM) one of the five components of Viral Change (TM) . Thank you Gary.
I agree with Hamel. We need to build a platform, not a programme. That is why our Viral Change (TM) interventions with clients are not called programmes. They have the label of whatever the client needs it to be but we make little fuss. We craft from within and call it ‘powered by Viral Change (TM).