Tuesday, 29 July 2008

No time to chat? How will you influence others?

The irony of middle and senior managers sitting alone in their offices and quietly developing communication plans on how messages and information was going to be spread around their organisation was not lost on me when I visited an organisation recently. It seemed everyone worked in isolation and apart from a few meetings where no-one really listened to each other and true dialogue was missing, the organisation appeared to have a dearth of conversation.

Yes, there was a lot of open plan office space, yet this was lunch time and most people sat at their desks, on their own, eating their sandwiches while pressing keys and watching screens. It was very quiet. The kitchens where you can make a coffee are stand around places with no seats, nowhere for sitting down and talking over a coffee. This is an organisation where chat, conversation and informal discussions seem not to happen very much. So I'm not really that hopeful about their "spread" plans. We know from the evidence in researching the impact of planning methods versus informal conversatioons and we know that the informal conversations and peer to peer discussions have a high degree of influence over another's behaviour.

In contrast, I have a client in the Netherlnads that when they redesigned their offices and moved from the rabbit hutch corridors of offices to open plan did so with conversation in mind. Their kitchen areas have seating arrangements and tables around them to encourage eating and talking together. They report that this works well and keeps the flow of information informally moving around the various teams in the organisation.

Design can play a large part but so can culture. If your office is a "no-speak-lunchtime" one, then try sharing your lunchtime with someone else in the coming week. You may even like the break it gives you.

Friday, 18 July 2008

We need system stars not individual stars

I thought I'd come up with a new idea only to discover that more than 80 years ago an article was written in The American Magazine about how perhaps the worst employee to have was the "brilliant" one because this was the person who would have lots of ideas, start them off and most likely never complete the work. You can read more about this orgininal article, called "Why I never hire brilliant men" here http://www.taoyue.com/stacks/articles/brilliant-men.html.

I'm interested in this topic because when it comes to the spread of good practice and scaling up good ideas across organisations and communities we so often focus on individuals. We point out the "champions", the so-called innovators, yet in my practical experience I am finding they really seem to be a turn-off at influencing others. I have written about this before.

What I am thinking about is that we focus on individuals because we are individuals. However, if we want system change we need to think about systems. And systems are not like individuals. They operate differently, to different rules, with different dynamics. We need to think decision-making processes, co-ordination, co-operation, collaboration and competition. Systems Thinking principles (from Senge's work) would be most appropriate here (more to come on this topic in future blogs).

So what we need are system stars for other systems to copy. We need to demonstrate that systems can operate the good ideas that we have. In healthcare we need to move away form the individualised models that we have and move away form the individualised model of scaling up to one which is more system focused - from its development through to its scaling up.

Creative Commons 2008 Sarah Fraser Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derviative

Monday, 14 July 2008

Social marketing for health: new resources

The "how" of spreading good practice is what is so difficult. One of the methodologies suggested is that of social marketing. I was pleased to see the English Department of Health using this strategy and openly promoting it. In some new documentation mostly around supporting public health initiatives, this strategy is made obvious. At the same time they have published a leaflet on "What is Social Marketing" and I commend this to general readership. I know they have worked jointly with the National Social Marketing Centre http://www.nsms.org.uk/public/default.aspx on producing it and it does make a great deal of sense. Succinctly written it sets out how social marketing is different from commercial marketing. I also like the way it still sets the expectations for measurement - something that tends to be forgotten in some social marketing programmes.

You can download the social marketing document and associates policy documents at: http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publichealth/Choosinghealth/DH_086106

I also find the National Social Marketing Centre website very useful as they make available many presentations on social marketing and a variety of other resources.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Do opinion leaders influence?

Well the answer is yes, though I suggest not enough for what we always need them to do in a planned way. I have written about this before from a slightly different angle though was struck again in a conversation with a client who wanted to create a change strategy based mostly around identifying a range of key influencers and then feeding information through them and wanting them to then infleunce the change process. By influence the change process I am assuming he meant create the action necessary to have the changes implemented by others in the workplace.

On paper and in the cold light of day this looks like a credible theory. In practice it wobbles slightly. Who exactly are the right infleuncers? Will they retain their credibility and influencing power once it becomes known they are working in this way? I suspect not. Also, most true influencers have this power over a discrete set of individuals, most of whom are their peers. In our organisational settings we would thus need to create a multi-disciplinary and multi-dimensional team of influencers to reflect these patterns and this is not what I generally come across when organisations talk of influencers. Mostly they refer to senior members of the team who they then label as champions of an idea.

I think opinion leaders do influence. I believe it is important not to confuse our organisational change and development implementation plans with this complex theory which is easier to see as a descriptive peice of research than it is to use as a predictive planning tool.