Seven Tools For Getting Nets To Work

4 August 2017 | When it comes to scaling excellence, network diagrams—and old-fashioned organizational charts—can be a helpful starting point. But drawing and discussing such orderly images can become seductive diversions. Organizational life is messier than those tidy illustrations suggest. For those charged with scaling up an organization, your job isn’t to draw a network diagram; it is to get the “net”—the organization—to work. Scaling doesn’t succeed until the networks you build are buzzing with constructive actions that reflect and reinforce the goodness that you aim to spread.

In this spirit, Sutton & Rao offer seven tools for “making nets work,”different approaches for configuring and activating domino chains of excellence. But before the authors describe these tools, they propose two overarching rules: Once is not enough and One is not enough.

The first rule is Once is not enough because beliefs and behaviors do not spread like contagious diseases—one exposure is rarely enough to infect people. If you want a mindset to stick, you’ve got to pummel people with multiple messages and exposures to get people to remember, accept, and live it.

The second rule, One is not enough, follows from the first. Each tool isn’t right for every scaling challenge. Nor are all tools mutually exclusive. Using a blend of two or more is usually better than relying on just one. In a company or nonprofit, for example, you might combine a message from the CEO that urges people to reduce energy costs in your organization with a bazaar or trade show-style event where people set up tables or booths and share methods they’ve used to reduce such costs. The blend of the two methods is likely to be more effective than either alone. Not only do multiple tools increase the rate of polite pummeling, but different people are attracted to and motivated by different tools. Some people might be more strongly influenced by pressure from management or their direct reports, others by exchanging ideas with peers from other parts of the organization in a bazaar. The idea is to provide people with multiple “on-ramps”to get them on the road to embracing and living the mindset you aim to spread.

1. The Top-Down Approach
Although many people are ambivalent about hierarchies, all groups and organizations have and need them to survive and thrive. Hierarchies come in handy for creating a domino chain reaction that starts from the top and cascades down the pecking order.

For more complex and controversial changes, command-and-demand often isn’t enough.

2. Broadcast Your Message Out to One and All
Webinars, brochures, mailings, websites, and gatherings where senior executives make speeches to employees are part of many scaling efforts. They can signal that the ideas leaders and teams aim to spread are important, teach people about the content, and pique interest. But such “air war”tactics alone are rarely enough to persuade people to join on and help expand a movement.

Creating strong ties required ground war tactics: personal e-mails, phone calls, and especially face-to-face interaction.

3. Surround Them: Have the Many Teach the Few
One of the most effective—if inefficient—ways to spread new behaviors and beliefs is to take one person, or a small team, and embed them among large numbers of people who already eat, live, and breathe the mindset that you want them to embrace. Everywhere they turn, someone is there to model the right behavior, teach and coach them, and correct them when they aren’t saying or doing things that are quite right by local standards.

4. One on One: The Power of Pairs
This tool is core to most successful scaling efforts: nearly all depend at least partly on dyads where each “domino” topples the next.

Pairing teachers and learners is also essential for scaling talent.

Pairings are also critical for spreading change: not just for teaching new ideas and skills but also for persuading others to support and smooth implementation. A key challenge in using this approach is figuring who is best paired with whom. One strategy is to match “socially similar”people or units. That way, each “teacher”can better empathize with the challenges that each “learner”faces. And those being taught can’t complain, “You’re so different from me [or us], you couldn’t possibly understand.”

When it comes to one-on-one influence, focus on supporters and fence-sitters. Try to pair the “persuaders” on your scaling team with powerful people who already trust and admire them. Beware of pairing up with resisters. Even if they are good friends and those resisters otherwise admire your skills and judgment, your efforts may provoke them to harden their positions and may damage your relationship.

5. From the Few to the Many
This is the classic scaling strategy: a group of determined people bands together and labors to slowly spread their mindset, and associated actions and skills, throughout an organization or other network.

6. Brokers: Bridging Disconnected Islands
Brokering is an especially powerful version of the “one to many” and “few to the many” tools.

Knowledge brokers “fill” the holes and transfer information, expertise, ideas, and influence between those who have it and those who need it.

A masterful knowledge broker:

  1. is curious about strangers and their ideas;
  2. lives and breathes the mindset but isn’t obnoxious about it;
  3. has strong opinions, weakly held;
  4. listens and learns; and,
  5. convenes, introduces, and connects.

7. Create Crossroads Where People Connect
Bazaars are largely self-organizing and sometimes rather chaotic “marketplaces”that bring together “sellers”and “buyers.”The word bazaar comes from the Persian word for “market.”It conjures up images of ancient people gathered in the town square to sell and buy wares, as well as modern variants such as flea markets, farmers’markets, and street fairs. When it comes to scaling excellence in and across organizations, bazaarlike settings enable people to build new connections and strengthen old ones—largely through one-on-one interactions.

Regardless of the exact form they take, bazaars set the stage for the informal exchange of ideas, emotions, plans, goods, and money that help individuals and teams and, in doing so, strengthen a larger network.

One comment

  1. […] Seven tools for getting nets to work When it comes to scaling excellence, network diagrams—and old-fashioned organizational charts—can be a helpful starting point. But drawing and discussing such orderly images can become seductive diversions. Organizational life is messier than those tidy illustrations suggest. For those charged with scaling up an organization, your job isn’t to draw a network diagram; it is to get the “net”—the organization—to work. Scaling doesn’t succeed until the networks you build are buzzing with constructive actions that reflect and reinforce the goodness that you aim to spread. […]

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