Spreading infectious agile change

There is much debate on whether top-down or bottom-up change is the right approach to change, but it is the infectiousness of the change that matters instead.

When looking at the pattern of diseases, the basic reproduction number R0. (R nought) of an infection is the number of cases one case generates on average over the course of their infectious period. The metric is useful because it helps determine whether or not an infectious disease can spread through a population.

  • When R0 < 1 the infection will die out in the long run,
  • But if R0 > 1 the infection will be able to spread in the population.

For me, change may exhibit similar properties. It can begin anywhere, but it is the infectiousness of the change which will determine it’s success. It is possible that in all companies both bottom-up or top-down may begin fighting the infection if it begins in a different part of the organisation. It is now power which determines if they will be able to stop the infection, before they get infected themselves.

The larger the value of R0 the harder it is to control the epidemic. Thus, change needs to move fast to be successful. In many ways, this is one of the reasons why I personally favour disruptive change as opposed to slow evolutionary change. I want to infect as many people as possible before my own personal time to change things is up.

When looking at Kotter’s leading change model, it contain’s many attributes to increase the R0.

  • Establish a sense of urgency (Infection must be fast)
  • Create the guiding coalition (Start the growth of infection straight away)
  • Develop a vision and strategy (Plan the infection attack)
  • Communicate the change vision (Infect quickly with communication)
  • Empowering employees for broad-based action (Infect by allowing them to lower their barriers to the change)
  • Generating short term wins (Since there is an increased danger of slow spreading diseases dying out)
  • Consolidating gains and producing more change (Sustain infection over time rather than letting the R0 drop)

Going further, the explicit decay rate may slow down a change over time. Thus, constantly infect your organisation with new diseases.

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