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Large scale change, as a series of cascading small scale interventions (often under the philosophy of ‘small wins’) has dominated the management thinking and has been reinforced by Big Consulting whose business model relies on parachuting a rather significant contingent of troops whose presence is charged by the number of bodies and the number of days they show up.

But ‘small scale things’ repeated is a simple accumulation, or a mountain of… small scale things. Sure, there may be merit in it, but it’s unlikely to create systemic change.  You can throw more Lego pieces to the pile, but it won’t look like a castle unless you organize them.

Small scale/small wins/one thing at a time/start small, will get bigger, cascade/repeat etc, follows the laws of addition (more workshops, more bodies, more layers of managers). It may work in a relatively small organization but, in a large one, one runs out of bodies to engage very soon and usually never gets to the ‘bottom’, whether machine operators, operational staff or even front line and client facing individuals.

In fact, small wins, which undoubtedly create a sense of advancement and are gratifying in their own right (something is happening) may be counterproductive by creating an illusion of progress. It feels good and busy but may end in busyness.

Many medium and large corporates seem absurdly content with the deployment (usually the military term widely used) of communication-cum-workshop from the top to their direct reports, maybe all directors, or to the top 200, 300 etc. incomprehensibly ignoring the other 4500 people in the payroll. In fact, they are perpetuating an idea of leadership-at-the-top of the pyramid.  Get the top layers enlightened and it will magically percolate to all. Even when they speak a (learned) language of ‘bottom up’, for those companies, ‘bottom up’ is the same workshopsterone but at the bottom. The only change is geographical.

If you take the view, as I do, that culture change and transformation (by definition at scale) closely follows the model of a social movement (inside the firm), then, the appropriate maths is multiplication, not addition: you engage 4, each engage 3, then they engage 3 each etc. This is not a corporate-friendly mental model (you attend meetings ‘as yourself’… you are not supposed to invite others who invite others, who bring others, unless this is done on purpose).

Corporate loves the maths of addition (number of workshops, number of packages, number of people, layers of them) but does not usually understand multiplication. Unfortunately, as we say in Viral Change™ as one of our mantras, ‘no multiplication, no social movement’.

Many top down interventions fail because they rely on cascades of information, which is a logical way to ‘communicate’ but a notoriously bad system to change behaviours (and there is no change unless there is behavioural change).

Those ‘messages’, perhaps beautifully packaged, compete on corporate airtime with a myriad of other, also beautifully packaged messages. Unless you like the contest ‘my PowerPoints are better than yours’, the whole affair becomes futile, but noisy. Corporate fireworks.

Worse, you can’t repeat it because people will then switch off and will see you coming from a distance. ‘Here we go again, another new initiative, and its only Wednesday’.

The multiplication effect (for us in Viral Change™ is of a small set of non negotiable behaviours) won’t miraculously happen without a proper orchestration of 5 components: concrete behaviours (not high level concepts such as accountability, ownership or trust…), peer-to-peer influence (with recruited frontrunners), informal networks, storytelling system and Backstage Leadership™. I am describing the ABC of the Viral Change™ Mobilizing Platform.

I wish I could say ‘follow these 8 steps’ but it doesn’t work. As a social movement, people mobilization and engagement need to be orchestrated to activate all the above components at the right time, often not in sequence. A small project team, which we tend to call ‘The Engine Room’ is in the background organizing, mostly in an invisible way. We coach and co-work with our clients for them to do it for themselves and by themselves, with ourselves in the back room. We are the invisible chefs.

Some people equate ‘viral’ to unmanageable, close your eyes and pray. But Viral Change™ is far from it. It’s well orchestrated but from a rather backstage position. In fact, the players are so close to the ground in real time that they are more aware of realities than those in the traditional model where once the communication kicks off you quickly lose track of its effects.

Many CEOs and top leaders I know react with ‘can we really do this here?’, ‘can this happen inside an organization?’.


Because it’s so obvious that it works ‘in the outside world’ (look around), that realizing that the laws of people mobilization and change apply equally to the corporation is often liberating. ‘Can we have one of these?’ Yes, you can. It’s a non-mainstream practice that has been in place for many years and worked in a plethora of industries and geographies.

‘So, how long?’ is usually next. I wish we could say we’ll fix culture with a few fireworks. But it takes time and expertise to upskill an Engine Team, find the frontrunners with influence and orchestrate everything across the organization. However, initial change results can be observed and measured within months.  It’s an intense and fascinating journey.  It always works when properly resourced and structured.

There is a very strong preconceived idea in the area of change (culture change for example) in organizations that all will be slow and rather painful: culture change will take years, one needs to start with small wins, the individual needs to change first etc. This idea of the inevitability of the painful journey is at odds with the speed often seen in social mobilization and change ‘outside the firm’ (social, political). Unless we want to believe that the corporation is a different beast populated by masochists, we are simply out of touch with reality.

If you wanted to discuss how this approach can benefit your organization please contact my team at [email protected]


Learn more about Viral Change™


If you want to discuss your behavioural and cultural change needs – let’s talk. Contact my team at: [email protected].
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