Organisational Change Management Volume 2

Infectious Commitment

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(see graph below)

This involves the concept of a threshold or tipping point, ie when the proportion of positive role models goes to less than 5% of a population, neighbourhoods go from relatively functional to wildly dysfunctional social patterns virtually overnight. There is no steady decline: a little change has a huge effect.

This concept could be applicable to organisations and is designed around a principle of epidemiology. When more people are getting a disease than are being cured of it, the disease will tip into an epidemic. The speed at which the epidemic spreads depends on the all-important ratio between the number of people being infected and number of people recovering. If slightly more people become ill than are cured, and if nothing else changes, the disease will slowly become an epidemic. By contrast, if many more people get sick than are cured, the disease will spread like wildfire. Similarly, a particular change can transform an organisation for the better; with the means of infection being exposure to the committed change advocates.

Using this concept, a number of surprises have emerged, ie conventional thinking tells us that great changes have a great impact. But non-linear systems, such as change initiatives, don't work that way. Sometimes a big change can have a frustratingly small impact, while a small change can have a sudden significant impact by pushing the flow of new advocates past the tipping point in a way that permanently affects the population.

This concept can help answer the following questions

. What factors do you believe make a difference to the spread of new ideas?

. How do those factors influence one another?

. Why do you choose some factors and not others?

. What could be done to increase the power of particular factors that seem to "tip over" the balance from apathy to interest?

(sources: Helen Shapiro, 1999; Cynthia Scott et al, 1995)

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