A CEO asked me recently: what do you do with a manager who does not embrace or support change, in fact, who is an obstacle? My answer is always the same, only adapted in tone to the circumstances such as how well I know that CEO. I say: ‘you put that manager in a room with another five managers who do support and embrace change.’
I am careful that this is not received as superficial, or a trying-to-be-clever answer. But this is the truth. Nothing equals the power of peer-to-peer influence. This is well above the boss convincing, threatening or brainwashing.
Most of our social positions are shaped socially, for better or for worse. Group pressure, conformity or influence, I don’t really care what you call it, can be used for good reasons. It works very well, when orchestrated well.
In a recent HR conference, after my keynote speech on Viral Change ™ a manager came to me: but, is this not manipulation? My answer is always the same: ‘only if you call it manipulation when managing people, educating them, or dare I say, coaching them.’
Entire (change) management practices that are focused on the expectation that the individual will change his mind, attitude or mindset, via rational understanding or emotional engagement, or both, could be shifted towards group shaping of those changes, using peer-to-peer influence.
This is not to underplay the role of ‘individual agency’, something that leaders need to manage with their direct reports, for example, on a one-to-one basis. But when we’re talking change at a scale, it is impossible to work on a one-to-one basis only. The group effect is immensely more powerful. Individual seduction becomes group influence, or cultural change, for example, will never happen.
Traditionally, we have underestimated the power of social copying inside the organization. We have talked about the existence of peer-to-peer influence, or group pressure, as something that is there, in front of us, but we don’t quite know what to do with it. Peer networks have shown us that it is far more powerful to use them in order to shape cultures, create behavioural change, establish new rules or a style of working, and anything that has to do with the building of a particular culture. That is, large scale behavioural change.
The answer to individual resistance is often one of a social transplant. Dwelling in a new place of non-resistance cures far more, than hours of convincing that resistance is bad.
Of course, I am bound to say that, it’s Homo Imitans, stupid.
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