Driving enterprise change in a scalable way (Part 1 of 2)

The key lessons for driving change across your company can be found in a beautiful story about a brave little girl, Alex Scott.

Before her 1st birthday, Alex was diagnosed with cancer. At 4 years old, she wanted to raise money for her doctors, so they could “help other kids, like they helped me.”

Alex opened up a lemonade stand and raised $2,000. Then she did it again. Then friends and family opened up lemonade stands and word spread. By the time Alex was 8 years old and terminally ill, those stands raised $1 million. The movement kept going and Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation has now raised over $40 million.

A 4-year-old girl and her family started with an idea and very few resources. And they built and mobilized a network of 1000s of people to make a tremendous impact for a good cause.

Is it possible to drive that kind of change at work?

A framework for social change

I came across Alex’s story in “The Dragonfly Effect,” (and I’ve since met families who’ve opened up their own stand). This excellent book contains example after example of people using social media to drive social change.

And from those stories it distilled a common framework that’s extremely useful - the 4 main elements they all used to drive change:

Focus: Identify a single concrete and measurable goal.

Grab attention: Make someone look. Cut through the noise...with something unexpected, visceral, and visual.

Engage: Create a personal connection, accessing higher emotions through deep empathy, authenticity, and telling a story. Engaging is about empowering an audience enough to want to do something themselves.

Take action: Enable and empower others to take action...move audience members from being customers to becoming team members.”

In essence, pick a clear goal; make people care about it; and make it easy for them to make a difference.

The key difference in applying the “Dragonfly Effect” at work

The first part is easy. Most companies have no shortage of goals. Increase this. Decrease that. Most goals for your group, division, or enterprise are likely “concrete and measurable.”

The problem is making people care. Typically, it’s just too hard for individual employees to understand their personal connection to corporate goals.

And that’s the key. That’s where companies can learn a lot from charities like Alex’s that use modern media to tell stories. Those stories - of patients, of stand volunteers, of work funded by the foundation - all “access higher emotions.” They make 1000s of people care enough to do something.

At work, you have to go beyond the usual antiseptic reporting of project activities and progress. You need to tell stories. Rich, visual, engaging, personal stories of the people affected by the problem. The people contributing. The people benefitting from the results.

Then you have to do something.

A universal structure for getting things done

Now here’s some good news. All the efforts that drive change in a scalable way tend to use a similar structure. They all have 3 elements:

  1. a very small core team
  2. a large tribe that cares
  3. specific roles within the tribe that let people contribute in different ways, all of which are clear and easy to understand

Alex’s foundation started with her and her family at the core. As they built their tribe, they developed a structure, including ways for more experienced contributors (“Stand ambassadors”) to help others. They broadened the ways to contribute, enabling their tribe to grow yet larger. And they’ve focused on making it ever easier to start a stand. They’ll even provide you with the materials and a fundraising coach.

And this structure isn’t just for driving social change.

Ubuntu is a leading version of Linux with more than 12 million downloads. But even open source has a structure. There’s a small core team of full-time, paid staff. And their tribe includes 100s of developers but 1000s who contribute in other ways. Look at the Ubuntu community site and you’ll see 5 different ways to contribute - from writing code to support to graphic design - with clear rules for organizing and governing.

The oft-cited Wikipedia is another good example. They, too, have a small full-time staff. And while anyone can make edits, select members of the tribe have key roles of administrators, bureaucrats, and stewards, each with clear guidelines on what to do and how to do it. The seemingly free-for-all encyclopedia has a structure so things get done.

Part 2: Putting it all together at your firm

Imagine tapping into such passion and productivity at work.

Currently, change efforts at most firms usually stop at the core team. The clear goals get cascaded down the org chart until the link between the original goal and individual efforts is too weak to motivate people.

But this framework and this structure provides an alternative approach, involving things we don’t often do at work. Telling stories. Making things personal and emotional. Building tribes of people who care (and who span the org chart). Continually making it easier for people to contribute in different ways.

These things unleash tremendous productivity. They allow people at all levels in all locations to contribute to something they care about. And that’s what can make corporate change efforts scalable

Next week’s post will apply this approach to a mundane (but valuable) business goal.

And we’ll see just how different it can be.