October 07, 2009

9 Change Management Tactics from Chairman Mao If you are charged with changing an organization’s culture, you can not ignore the biggest sustained case study in change management over the last 60 years – the transformation of the Peoples’ Republic of China under the guidance of Mao Zedong. And while Chairman Mao and his successors’ philosophy, approach and policies might be abhorrent politically and while no one can ever condone or minimize the butchery or the massive scale of human suffering brought on by successive campaigns, decisions or regimes, the actions of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) offer the greatest number of lessons in how to transform a country from abject poverty to modernity and from political chaos and internecine warfare to stability and participation in the world political system. Facing a smaller task – changing how a company can change its culture and act differently internally and externally – there seem to be several clear change management concepts that can be extracted from Chairman Mao. Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating any of the CCP methods. But I am suggesting that the CCP understood underlying and possibly universal motivational and communications principles which can be extracted, humanized, tempered, democratized and applied in organizational settings to achieve scalable change. Involve Top Leadership. From Mao thru Wen Jiaboa every Chinese leader has been an active front man and spokesperson for change. Routine and regular appearances to underscore the effort and tout the party line are key expectations of top leaders. Create a Party Line. The CCP plans their work and works their plan. They articulate a clear, concise policy line and demand active adherence from all cadres. They use party discipline to enforce every zig and zag in the party line. But the existence of a clear point of view and articulated short and long term goals direct and orient the organization. Just don’t expect consistency or historical continuity. Use Simple Slogans Frequently. While the CCP will never win any creative awards, they understood early on that communicating big concepts to the masses required shorthand that is universally and instantly understood and frequently repeated. Like Mad Men they crated short punchy slogans and bombarded the masses with them until they were unavoidable, unforgettable and firmly drilled into everyone’s consciousness. Influence Every Unit. By identifying early adopters, purging dissenters and designating change leaders at each level of society, the CCP mobilized and motivated millions of “change agents” to accomplish their mission. Every house, block, factory, military unit and sector of society had party member and trained cadres tasked with instigating and sustaining change. Change requires worker bees at every important level of the organization. Model Behavior. People need to understand what is expected of them. By calling out model citizens, model work brigades and model collective farms, the CCP held up the desired behavior and then dissected and disseminated the operative elements of the behavior they sought to encourage. By showing the end result, often entirely fabricated, they were able to drive behavioral change by showing the path forward and illuminating the desired end result. Celebrate Every Victory. The corollary to modeling behavior is celebrating every win. In the case of the CCP many were entirely bogus, nonetheless they understood that change is an incremental process where success builds upon itself and small victories can be compounded, packaged and merchandized to yield increasingly bigger victories. They also understood the need for people to join a winning team and the attractiveness of perceived momentum as a recruiting and validating device. Marshall Peer Pressure. People do what others are doing and often comply with widely held expectations. We and they are monkey-see; monkey-do cultures. The CCP set the bar and used every form of peer pressure and coercion to attain conformity. Their methods, while odious and brutal, built a culture where the cadre reinforced and policed its own behavior. This was further reinforced by the use of tangible experiences, music, operas and common symbols (e.g. The Little Red Book, Mao pins) to consistently reinforce the message. Accepting and implementing change is a viral process that builds on itself and needs to reach a critical mass. Manage Self-Interest. It was always more important and better to be “red” rather than “expert”. Toeing the line determined everything from housing and work assignments to personal freedom. The CCP aggressively used the “performance review process” backed by secret police and Gestapo tactics to help people act in their own best interests. Baking expected behavior into key performance indicators and into personal objectives yields...
The FTC's Firestorm over Blogging The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) revisited its Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising , the rules on truth in advertising, for the first time since 1980 and applied it to bloggers. A firestorm of criticism erupted. But I don’t get it on several levels. For years people pretending to be consumers have been posting blog comments, reviews, criticisms, endorsements, features, benefits, images, schematics and other content pretending to independent advocates of brands and causes. Whole firms of these fakeroo posters peddle this service to brands desperate from buzz and new customers. A few years ago Wal*Mart’s PR agency Edelman got busted for this kind of abuse. Bloggers, me included, are always looking for freebies and swag. I’m still jealous that when Jeff Jarvis said he was in “Dell hell” he got a laptop. When I posted my “Dell hell” story I got a snotty call from a Dell flack. Over the years, I got a few books to review, a few t-shirts and a mountain of white papers and reports that the authors’ often charge for. I haven’t shilled for anybody and I’ve tried to be equally critical of everyone; sometimes ranting and sometimes praising. My goal is to disclose everything, take nothing and hold on dearly to my digital bully pulpit. It’s only sensible that bloggers should be transparent and ethical in revealing who is schmearing whom. Payola poisoned broadcasting and print media and has probably played an unfair role in the growth of blogging and other forms of social media. The FTC mandates that disclosure must be “clear and conspicuous” whatever that means.Commercial and endorsement relationships must be disclosed. Wild ass claims are out of bounds as is masquerading as someone or something you are not. The rules kick in on December 1st and penalties include $11,000 in fines per violation. This seems right to me. Bloggers, like journalists, should strive for integrity and transparency by disclosing their allegiances, alignments and paid endorsements. Bloggers also should be subject to libel and slander laws and should adhere to the same code of conduct as journalists and corporate officers. So why did the editors of Ad Age work themselves into a lather calling the FTC blog rules “excessive, ridiculous, hypocritical and likely unconstitutional?’? Because the rules are vague, difficult to understand or enforce, policed by bureaucrats subject to political influences and Obama’s direction and they come down harder on new media than old media. Who knew that Ad Age was such a digital defender? They’re not. They are just anti-regulation across the board for advertising. Today the New York Times weighed-in arguing that the regulations are not onerous and will probably protect the public. I agree. In this case, the shot across the bow is warranted. In cyberspace all kinds’ of shenanigans have gone on for more than 10 years. It is time to rattle the regulatory saber and close down the crooks, charlatans and cheaters. Even if it takes some ham-fisted FTC action, we can find the equilibrium, as needed, through the courts.

Danny Flamberg

I am a veteran marketing consultant working with leading and emerging brands

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