Inside Scoop Live
Dr Herrero talks to Inside Scoop Live about the book Viral Change. Click the play button to start listening. Below you can also read the Reader Views interview with Dr Herrero.
Tyler: Welcome, Leandro. To begin, will you tell us a little bit of your own personal background and what inspired you to write “Viral Change”?
Leandro: I am an organizational architect, consulting with organizations to improve their capabilities for innovation, effectiveness, leadership and ability to implement change, including cultural change. As you said, I am also a medical doctor and I began my career with 15 years in medical/psychiatric practice followed by another 15 years in senior management of several pharmaceutical companies. Six years ago I embarked on my third career when I founded The Chalfont Project, now an international consulting group. My vision for The Chalfont Project really began when I was writing the thesis for my business degree; I took the opportunity to stand back and assess what had worked for me and most importantly WHY it had worked. I became evangelical about my findings, writing widely and accepting an appointment as Visiting Professor for a prestigious business school in Mexico before taking the step to found The Chalfont Project.
During my years of hands on experience in leading companies, I have been interested in one single theme with many different angles: why the organizational fabric of a company determines how productive, innovative and attractive to people it is going to be. In particular, I focus on the role behaviors play in that organizational fabric.
“Viral Change” is one of three management books I have written in recent years, drawing on the results of my consulting practice, business experience and the application of my behavioural and social sciences background.
Tyler: Leandro, your book’s subtitle says the book is the “Alternative to Slow, Painful and Unsuccessful Management of Change.” You are basically saying that most conventional change management programs fail. Would you explain why that is the case?
Leandro: The track record of so-called ‘change management programmes,’ whether broad, concerted or systematic attempts to ‘manage change,’ is not great. People have traditionally taken a mechano-hydraulic approach to these programs: push from the top, get at the bottom. It may all be well mapped in terms of processes, usually sequential, but many initiatives of this kind fail. Take cultural change. We have been taught that this is something very difficult, long term, hard and painful. However, there are numerous examples where significant cultural changes have happened almost overnight. A new CEO, for example, may consciously or not, install a series of norms, often very simple, that are rapidly imitated, spreading and transforming life in the organization. There is one of these examples at the beginning of my book. It seems as if we see these things happening everyday but when we try to formalize ‘a programme’ for the organization, it all becomes slow and painful. People see change management as a well orchestrated chain of events, usually with massive communications, trying to involve everybody in the firm. It doesn’t work I am afraid. I am proposing an alternative model that works faster, creates more sustainable changes and is not top-down. Incidentally, the terminology itself is very contaminated. IT has skillfully hijacked the term and in that context it is associated with the implementation of large scale IT programmes.
Tyler: Why did you choose the word “Viral” for part of your title?
Leandro: Because the methodology explained follows the same principles as a viral infection which in itself is similar to the ‘production’ of a fashion. I am interested in creating internal infections of success, where success—in whatever form the firm defines it—becomes a fashion. The process is viral, almost appearing random, not a sequential top-down communication and training programme. This is the key to change in understanding how new ideas, new ways of working, spread. The viral route is the one that makes sense once you have understood how organizations work and how their internal networks behave.
Tyler: You begin “Viral Change” by listing some of the key assumptions people have about change which are not true. Will you tell us about a couple of the most significant of these assumptions and why these assumptions are incorrect?
Leandro: One assumption repeated constantly is that ‘people are resistant to change.’ This is nonsense from a biological viewpoint: we are change. I often begin some of my public or in-house programmes with a series of questions projected on a big screen: who (in the audience) has moved house more than once? Who has moved countries? Who has learnt a second language? Who has children? Who has seen their parents decline? Who has moved jobs? Who has moved to a new industry? Invariably I get lots and lots of hands up. I am trying to make the point that we have participated in these actions, not resisted. They weren’t done to us with us resisting all the way. We are in constant change. So why do we keep repeating the mantra like parrots? We see people doing things that look like resistance to change, that is true, but that is a different thing. And people do this largely when they feel they lose control over their lives or change has been imposed. Then, they ‘resist,’ but not because they are resistant. You see, the linguistic trick is in the ‘are.’ By accepting this a priori, then anything we do is going to be against it, against this ‘natural condition’ of ‘being naturally resistant.’ It is going to be difficult and slow—and probably expensive. This is a fantastic alibi to justify managerial incompetence!
Another assumption is that change must start from the top. Again, just by opening the corporate windows to the external world, people can see multiple places—political, social—where change has started, far from the top, from the peripheral of things! Many cultural changes or ‘new ideas change’ start at grass roots, or simply, by the existence of a critical mass of people doing things in a different way. When we get to the corporate world, we look up in the organization chart and say, it must start ‘there’ and then come down. Why? It seems that we have a set of laws for the corporate world and another set for the rest of ‘life’!
Tyler: Leandro, what about “Viral Change” is different from most change management programs?
Leandro: In traditional change management mode, given a big problem or set of problems or challenges, it is assumed that they will need a big set of actions and multiple initiatives cascaded down, involving all levels of management usually in the form of a massive communication system. In “Viral Change” mode a small set of behaviors, endorsed, modeled and spread by a small number of people with some degree of influence, creates rapid diffusion of these new ideas and subsequent sustainable change. We do not need to ‘touch’ every single person in the organization. Changes spread and get established via the internal viral networks of influence. In the book I call the traditional way ‘the tsunami’ approach in contrast to the ‘butterfly approach’ that is represented by Viral Change. These approaches are opposite both in philosophy and action.
Tyler: What made you decide to put your philosophy about creating change into a book?
Leandro: When a particular theoretical, solid ground framework is tested in real life and it works extraordinarily well, it is the right time to articulate it properly, don’t you think? This is the case of Viral Change!
Tyler: What happens if people within the organization are trying to create change, yet the people in management oppose it? How do people remain motivated without the support they need from above them? I am wondering if most people think it has to start at the top because they fear otherwise it will be squashed by management.
Leandro: There is little doubt that the ideal situation is one of full support form the top. Full support is not equal to ‘start at the top.’ As I said before, change can start anywhere. So effectively you have all sorts of combinations—start, trigger, support, sequence—from which full support at the top and simultaneously champions/activists starting the spread is the ideal. If the top totally opposes or blocks change, it is going to be very difficult but not totally impossible because the ‘internal infection’ could start anyway and eventually spread up to the top. In some cases the top then realizes that some good is coming from the ‘grass roots movement’—to use another terminology—and they eventually jump in, ‘suddenly’ embracing the new good ideas. This is a more painful route of course and many people within the organization would be put off at the idea of swimming upstream in the river. But as I say, this is far from impossible: social and political activism often swims against the tide. There is a mirror question to this that is often put to me. What is the real role of the top leadership? Do we need them at all? Is this all we need? Anything in between? The best answer is that in most cases we need the top leadership for the changes to happen but these changes won’t happen with just the top leadership on board. They are necessary but not sufficient in themselves. However, you are right that most people think change has to start at the top because they fear otherwise it will be squashed by management. This is the traditional way of thinking and a legitimate one. Unfortunately, taken to the extreme, the worst case will bring you close to complete paralysis and in the best case, you are in a sequential process that requires all line leadership to be ‘converted’ first. In 2007 we do not have time for this! It is an academic luxury!
Tyler: If behavioral change rather than a change in processes is required, how can this be accomplished. Can a manager have any control over changing his employees’ personalities?
Leandro: Behavioural change is key. So, how can it be created? It is not a question of ‘changing personalities.’ It is a question of defining which behaviors are needed to, for example, sustain the new processes, and then to reinforce those behaviors, no matter what. Reward and recognition—in multiples ways—of the new behaviors needed create a new behavioral fabric in the organization. We all, managers and non-managers, behave in particular ways because those behaviors are reinforced—by other people, by ourselves, by our code of ethics or values, or our sense of what is good or bad etc; or even by society. Defining which non-negotiable behaviors are needed and making sure that ‘the culture’ will reinforce these behaviors is the most important aspect of the change process.
New processes are often still needed. The same applies to ‘structure.’ But the problem is that traditionally people have focused on both as being “all is needed” for change. But there is no change unless there is behavioral change. We can kid ourselves thinking that because we have a new structure and we have mapped new processes, people are going to behave differently. In reality, in many cases people continue behaving as before. We see this in the process of mergers and acquisitions particularly if handled by The Big Consulting Firms: they map all the new structures, they map all the processes, they create a colossal amount of PowerPoint, and then, it is left to the troops (and management) to figure out what happens next. But they haven’t explained how Mary and John and Peter are now going to work together. This is like dirty territory that they don’t want to touch.
Tyler: In “Viral Change,” one of the key points you talk about for creating change is “tipping points.” Will you explain what this term means?
Leandro: When a certain critical mass of individuals start behaving in a similar way, for whatever reason, we have a tipping point in which that behavior or behaviors, is de facto a new routine, a new established way of doing. This is how fashions are created and this is how change in the organization should happen. How can you create that critical mass? There are a few ways, and the one we choose in Viral Change is to identify a group of internal champions who spread the new ideas or new behaviors. As soon as a pattern becomes visible, the new behavior tends to be established. Stories are the main vehicle of communication, by the way. “You see that group in the North of the country? They have completely changed the way they do meetings now? Did you see that unit of the company that have now done so and so.” These tipping points are very visible.
Tyler: As mentioned earlier, changes are largely viewed by most organizations as being about processes. One of the primary reasons why processes are changing these days is advancements in technology that make process changes necessary. How is your book relevant to changes brought about by technology?
Leandro: It is extraordinarily relevant because process and technology are chicken and egg. A new technology may ‘force’ people to change a process and behave differently. But unless the technology is bringing visible benefits to people, they will revert to old ways as soon as they can. Technology is very good at triggering new things but only behavioral change can make sure that we use the technology fully. There are numerous examples in corporations where new technology has been installed—a new Enterprise-wide system (ERP), a new customer relationship management system (CRM) etc. and after a while it is clearly underused and very often hated! The underlying behavioral assumption is very often wrong. New processes and systems, and new technology, do not create behavioral change, as people assume. We need behavioral change first to sustain new process and new technology! Take the example of collaborative tools—technology that allows people to work together better, collaborate and use single data sources, for example. These tools do not create collaboration. You need to have collaboration as a behavior first for the tool to be used and work! If many people in the CRM business realized that, a few multi-million could be saved!
Tyler: Leandro, you talk a lot about how many people in an organization only have a few contacts, while some other people have many contacts. In that scenario, who are the people best able to create effective change?
Leandro: A natural starting point to look for champions of change would be people who are well connected and with some degree of influence, people whom other people will listen to, perhaps with some moral authority, for example. This small number of people has the power to influence many, in various different ways as described in the book. This group is cross-sectional and does not correlate well with ‘management.’ Management may hold coercive or authoritarian power but not necessarily real-influence power. Being well connected, being someone people will listen to, or watch to take their cue on how to react and behave from etc, does not necessarily correlate with being in the management ranks.
Tyler: Leandro, have you seen your ideas for creating Viral Change applied in any organizations? If so, what were the results?
Leandro: I have seen significant cultural changes developed in less than four months and stable after a couple of years. I have seen unthinkable transformations that were predicted to be long term happen in half a year. I have seen radical new ways of doing things occurring in months. If you have a change management consulting company that tells you that they need six months to do an assessment, six months to create the conditions—including the famous ‘burning platform’ and the ‘coalition’—six months to ‘roll out’ the program and a second year and a half to see the cultural changes established, that consulting company is not worth the money.
Tyler: Would you give us a specific example of a change you have seen in an organization using the idea of Viral Change?
Leandro: One of the best examples, if anything else because a new culture was created so quickly, was the transformation of a pharmaceutical sales force division from a strong individualistic ethos to one where flow of information and sharing of ideas and market insights happened in three months. Two years later the new culture is still delivering success in all counts, including of course market performance. There were other changes associated. It is difficult to summarize here but suffice to say that everybody told us that our chances of success were zero due to ‘the strong (individualistic) culture.’ The cultural change was soon acknowledged by all the critics. Some of them went on to say, OK, but it won’t last. Today they recognize how wrong they were. There are multiple other examples of cultural change appearing as tipping points, once the right ingredients are fixed: new behaviours, application of behavioral reinforcement in a proper way—not the popular psychology style many companies use—right use of language and above all champions.
Tyler: I understand you travel quite a bit and speak to organizations also. What do you feel has been the greatest reward you have received in your work, either in creating change or in response to the publication of your book?
Leandro: The rewards come in many forms and shapes. At the organization level I enjoy champions telling me ‘it’s about time we do this! This time it is serious!” I also enjoy the skeptical managers coming around and saying either ‘it makes sense,’ ’it works’ or even ‘I always thought it was a good idea’—the latter always makes me hide a smile. Seeing groups and organizations transformed and the enthusiasm that this generates is a treat. On the book side I have had many expressions of, let’s say, support. But I have enjoyed in particular the ones coming from areas not directly addressed in the book such as education. The book is clearly focused on organizations of any type, but it inevitably has a flavour of business organizations. To see that people have grasped what the wider scope is is a real treat.
Tyler: Thank you for joining me today, Leandro. Before we go, would you tell our readers where they can find more information about “Viral Change” and how to purchase a copy?
Leandro: Thanks Tyler, I enjoyed talking to you! Our website, www.thechalfontproject.com, has quite a lot of information, including a short audio presentation on Viral Change. The book itself can be purchased through any major online store such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Blackwell’s, Borders etc.
Tyler: Thank you, Leandro. I hope many people benefit from positive change as the result of reading your book. I wish you lots of success.
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Hello and Welcome. I'm Sue Tupling from the CIPR's internal communications group CIPR Inside. I'm
here at the Internal communications conference in London talking to Dr Leandro Hererro author of the
book Viral Change about his recent seminar on Viral Change at the Conference today. So Leandro, its
clear that Viral Change is an innovative and highly effective approach to managing change in
organizations relying on the spread of behaviour through peer to peer networks to spread an internal
infection of success. And I am particularly interested to understand how Viral Change becomes
constrained by the patterns of organisational structure that we are used to. In your session you
talked about organizations are not the rigid sort of linear structures that we are familiar with
on the organizational charts, but rather they are messy social networks, if you like, that aren't
really constrained by structure. And that we need to change as managers, in particular we need to
change the model that we have of organizations in our minds; that we need to change our mental model
of organizations to really get the best out of Viral Change. And I wondered in your experience,
what are the steps that you have seen organizations go through in changing their understanding of
Yes... I think you'll find a spectrum of individuals of managers. On one side at one extreme you
have people that, as you said, they are very old fashioned in the way they understand an organization,
and very difficult to change. They have heard a little bit of the new music, but still is hierarchical
and these are by definition going to be the difficult guys, the guys who if they do not have the
windows open to any other model or anything that is all they know and they will need education in
one or other way. In my experience I think that and in any other extreme that you find the managers
and others that are already convinced that it has to be a different way of understanding the
organization. They don't know necessarily what but certainly is not hierarchical and is not the top
down its not the command and control etc. My experience is you find a lot of people in between and
one of the things that helps and is just one element, is, to expose these people to as many other
companies as possible as much as you can outside their industry, outside their areas of comfort.
People are very good because these were being taught in business schools and the rest as you know
thinking competitors all the time. Quite frankly I think we should ignore the competitors and spend
all the energy looking at outside all the other people who may well not be competitors and therefore
they are not in the radar screen, but we can learn a lot about how they are organized, how they are
doing it. It's a little bit tricky because you know you don't get people who jump into that particular
one, but once they get to knowing how you do this, this decision was a low firm which is sometime
completely different from what you do it , how do they do it. You know the first answer would be -
I don't need to look into that, it is a silly question and I am going to waste my time… but you push
a little bit, there is a lot that you can learn from models that are very alien to you.
That will show that there are other ways of living in the organization, that there are not just
one, and they are doing very well some of them thank you, so it is not that they are not successful
or that they are just experimental with your models.. It is not experimentation. Looser models of
working, no command control are there, they are in partnerships agreements, they are in consulting
groups, they are in Google, they are in other place, and this is the question of exposure. I think
that one of the problems that we have is that we tend to have the windows very closed inside our
organization. We spend a lot of time looking inside, thinking how to do things inside, processes
inside, so there is not much time to look to the outside and say, well you know, that other
industry is miles away from ours, but actually, If we were they, we would approach this in a
completely different way. That is a good start of trying to change our mental model that is there
and very rigid for a long time.
Yes, so I guess it happens over time with a drip, drip feed effect to some extent. Understanding the
theory but then showing them real life examples, and helping them to actually see it for themselves
to bring it to life?
Yes, I think Senior management and non senior management should spend part of their time in a very
clear way, not just verbally saying what they will be doing, but doing, spending time in other
industries, in other companies, but not competitors, or even friendly people who are already.. what
they are doing better what the companies already doing. That's not going to change much. It is to
put yourself in a company or situation which is radically different because of what they do, but
you go with your eyes open and to see how they do it and see if we were there, how we would do it
and it go back with some fresh ideas.
And also Leandro, the thing that really captured my attention in your speech, just a few minutes
ago, was how this new understanding of organizational structure and design, based on this sort of
messy social network works, is essentially meaning that management training by necessity has to
revolutionise itself. So the standard ways that we train managers, the standard structures, probably
ingrained for many, many years , have to become something completely different. I mean you event
touched on perhaps ..um.. studying epidemiology instead of time management or whatever, but, I mean,
do you have any more detail on that, can you elaborate on that at all?
Yes, This very important topic and area, because I think that in most of the things that we have in
the Western World, in terms of models of management are having it for a while, they are very
similar, and largely, let's face it, Anglo-Saxon and probably more American than anything else.
Which is fine, but there is one mother, one way of looking at things. And the best thing we do
some times is to criticize anything that is not like that, and say… well.. then you have the
French and they are very hierarchical, is like the army. We can go with this for ever and still not
change anything, but there is a lot that you can do, by questioning what kind of management training
and leadership training you have.
Thinking of what is the new organization needs, what kind of new skills, what kind of new ways of
doing and then where would you go to learn this things.. it's as simple as that. Aaah let's take a
very simple, a very practical example, which is resource management, people are trained on how to
manage resources. Mainly money and people etc. but 99% of this management of resources is management
of resources that you control. Management of your resource, or the companies resources.
It's about how to do a better job or a very good job with the budget that you have been allocated,
or the money you have, or the people you have. It's not much saying about managing resources that
you don't control. Managing resources that you think you don't have access to.
If we stretch the argument, you could say it sounds very poetic and very vague, but it is true,
the world is your resources. Everything that is there, is a resource that you can use, but that
is not how we thing about managing resources, is it? About managing my budget. There are lots of
people in many organizations that don't have even a budget and don't have people, or very little
and they "manage" an enormous amount of resources because they have the ability to bring these
resources to their benefit. So making decisions of influence, making decisions of accessing things
that are not under your control, is something that is totally alien to standard management
training. That is a very simple, there are more examples, you can go one by one and almost create
a new curriculuma, where there are the things that really matter.
Quite frankly today, it matters more to access resources that you don't have to the ones you have.
Accessing the ones you have is easy, you know you just do it with a little bit of training, but,
you know, you are rich, as manager, and you don't know, you just think that you have a very, you
know, bordered part of the world, where your money and your people and your organization is there
and beyond that, well there is nothing I can do. You know, we use even the terminology all the
time, don't we of things that are not under my control. It's nothing I can do. I wouldn't prioritize
that, it's priority number one, but I want you to excuse me, because I can't control it, so I cannot
control it out.
Well these things that you can control, may be the thing that controls the whole thing. So you
better start thinking how you can control with out the controlling. Another example of how the
whole concept of management has to change. And I don't think that business schools as a whole are
doing a very good job at that, but, you know, it would be a very interesting long conversation on
what kind of curriculum would be in it. Other thing that I mentioned in one of my books, is the
question of skill that for example. Most of the "skills" that we have - are first of all- they
are what we ask for, and we ask for analytical skills. Have you seen any advert anywhere in the
last 20 years that has not asked for analytical skills? So we have analytical companies, analytical
people and we are very good masters in analysis and dissecting any single problem into two hundred
kind of little problems so we can tackle them.
But there is normally very good explore/synthesis,
on making sense of the whole thing. Is the whole idea of the elephant that is divided into pieces
and the blind people go into the room and say well that is just an elephant and he is just a trunk
and he is just a whatever it is. You know we are very good at dissecting an elephant and there is
nobody around that can recognise an elephant any more. So synthesis skills are needed so you have
to go and find it , but that is not what is taught even in the schools, because we are priming
analytics versus synthesis. That is another idea how you construct probably a different blueprint
for what would be a different management of training in management and leadership.
Yes, absolutely. And perhaps even changing the way we think about learning, because with the new
model of wikinomics and organizations are actually to creating products through using the vast
influence of networks, that management of resource is going to be even more important.
Yes, absolutely. That's vital and anything that has to do with idea regeneration of and finding
tapping mechanisms whether they are tools and any other thing. Tapping into the collective
imagination of people inside the company, outside the company, that's going to be the hot thing
in the next years, because people are rich, they just don't know, they don't know how to get
these things. So anything that helps them tapping into these really into capital... not just the
ones you have on your pay-roll, is vital. Some people are doing that for a long time without
saying anything, but it's something now that, I think to me, becomes the model, the way of doing,
versus just something that you would do on top of something else. Collaboration today and idea
generation from everywhere is the constant of the organization, so we better learn how to do it.
And from my experience of working with organizations with more of a Viral Change approach, its
very much about Viral Change being silent change, being almost like stealth change, something
that is not widely publicised or introduces as some massive new change management project.
But you talk Leandro in the session you had, about how one of the ways that we can increase
success of Viral Change is by making it fashionable. And I just wondered how that can be applied
in organizations, perhaps how traditional models of communication can help in ensuring this
fashionableness takes over?
I was referring to fashion as the mechanism to spread new behaviours, new ways of doing things,
new concepts, new ideas inside the organization, in the same way and with the same power as fashions
are created. So there is a social fashion of many people doing something, that becomes the norm,
and I was saying why that we couldn't even sort of say, lets create, let's make accountability
fashionable inside the organization. Lets make talking to each other or collaborating between people
in the same spheres fashionable. So if this is fashionable means that is the way you do it, you know
you can think of a different way you do it, that's part of the furniture, that's an outcome that is
the desirable one within Viral Change. That is the mechanisms of fashion. The communication aspect
are your right, I mean, you, the Viral Change does not like the idea of having a formal program
that is institutionalised, and says, this is a new Viral Change program to change ABC etc because,
the day you do that you are dead.
This just looks like any other thing like the 200 other initiatives
that are in parallel and going in an organization at any time. So you want to do things, doing more
and talking less, but that does not mean you have to collate that from what you going to do, what
the planning is, what the outcome are. So there is a role for the communication people and the
people who has to do with the spreading it, articulating it very clearly. But it is not a constant
one, it's not something that you keep repeating and doing everything as if that were the only
mechanism that is going to change. We know that is not going to change anything, but we create
some awareness, which is good, so any social media that you can use, a near splash approach or saying
we want to go south, that has to be there, has to be done, has to be very solid. But then viral
change takes over. Via the champions and it is the viral movement that makes that happen. And then
if it happens, you can always refer to the frame work that was articulated and is already there.
So it was presented, it was said, etc.
A particularly important role of internal communication people,
is in the helping in the creating of the situation and the crafting of the stories. The stories are
the main and best vehicle that travels well between individuals on how things are happening, how
behaviours have changed, new ways of doing, etc, etc. So a good story is a story that is memorable,
a story that sticks, a story that people want to remember and is a story that almost became, all
you have to say to even explain something that is going on. So instead of saying, what's the
accountability in this organization, for example, you instead of saying accountability is bla bla
bla, and give the definition, you have a good story and say, you know, you want to know what
accountability is here, I'll tell you a story. John had that and Mary did the other day this thing,
and this thing didn't happen and she went out of the way and it happened like this… that's
accountability my friend.
People will remember that, far than a proper definition of. So a story
telling is something that requires a little bit of expertise and techniques etc as well as research,
that something that will be very welcome to plugging into a Viral Change program, because it is
something that not everybody has expertise. So I see somehow the roll of the internal communications
people which are in many large organization and many large companies, as shifting towards story
telling more than big splash of handsome newsletters and company magazines and country house hotel
Yes, absolutely. And I think story telling and metaphors, the use of metaphors along side story
telling helps, really helps people to create their own meanings, instead of having it hoisted on
You can find out more about Leandro Herrero and his work on Viral Change at the Viral Change website.
or you can find out more about Leandro's work as an organizational
architect with the Chalfont Project, at www.thechalfontproject.com