Driving enterprise change in a scalable way (Part 2 of 2)

Stories of social change are inspiring. Helping kids with cancer. Giving people clean drinking water.

But what if you need to drive change in your firm?

Say, for example, you need to cut helpdesk costs by 50%. You could do what everyone else does. Shift the work to a cheaper location. Decrease service levels.

Or you could apply the framework and structure from last week’s post and fundamentally change the work.


The framework in “The Dragonfly Effect” has 4 elements and the first, “Focus”, is the easiest: “Identify a single concrete and measurable goal.”

In the helpdesk example, the clear goal is to cut calls and email queries in half while without decreasing customer satisfaction.

Grab attention

The second element is making someone notice: “Make someone look. Cut through the noise…with something unexpected, visceral, and visual.”

Avoid the trap of merely presenting numbers about your helpdesk’s problems:

“100,000 calls a month!”

“$4 million a year!”

Those may be big numbers. But people are already awash in numbers, so it’ll be hard to make anyone notice yours.

Instead, apply principles from “Presentation Zen” (the single best book on presenting material in a visually engaging way) and recast the problem in ways that people can relate to:

 “Every 15 seconds, someone at our firm can’t get the information they need.”

Or make them stop and think of the benefits in a new way:

“The money we’d save by cutting service calls in half could provide clean drinking water for 100,000 people. For 20 years.”


Now you have to make people care: “Create a personal connection, accessing higher emotions through deep empathy, authenticity, and telling a story. Engaging is about empowering an audience enough to want to do something themselves.”

The best advice comes from William Zinsser. In his brilliant book, “On Writing Well,” he relates the secret to animating even the most mundane topic:

“You’ll find the solution in the human element. Somewhere in every drab institution are men and women who have a fierce attachment to what they are doing and are rich repositories of lore…Find these people to tell your story and it won’t be drab.”

In the help desk example, who are the people calling in with questions? How frustrated are they? And the people fielding all the calls every day? What’s that work like?

Talk to them. Share their stories in their own words.

For great examples, look at charitywater.org. More than informing you about the 1 billion people without clean water, they tell you stories. They show you the village gathered around the well for the first time. They let you see and hear the emotions of real people.

You need to do the same for your helpdesk problem. Making people care means making it personal.

Take action

Once you’ve caught people’s attention and you’ve built a tribe of people who care, now you have to organize them to drive change: “Enable and empower others to take action…to move audience members from being customers to becoming team members.”

The social efforts described last week – from Alex’s Lemonade Stand to wikipedia – all do 3 things:

  1. They make it easy to contribute.
  2. They make it possible to contribute in different ways.
  3. They recognize and connect contributors.

The helpdesk needs to do the same. (There are many successful internet businesses, like Macforums, that have a tribe of advocates doing most of the work. And Apple has far fewer phone calls as a result.)

The core team might bootstrap the knowledge base and provide the on-line forums, but the tribe is the key to scaling the effort:

  • contributing more questions
  • providing feedback on answer quality
  • contributing answers of their own
  • referring other users to answers that have already been provided.

The individual tribe members get value by shaping their on-line reputation with every contribution. Some of them may contribute enough to earn special responsibilities such as forum moderators or status-enhancing titles such as “Expert”.

Then the core team has to use the engagement techniques above to share stories of the contributors, further bolstering their reputation while motivating yet more people to participate.

Be different

Still uncertain? Then, next time you’re faced with driving change at work, think about Paul Newman in “Cool Hand Luke.”

There’s a scene when the chain gang is assigned to pave a road. It’s hard, hard work. Everyone grabs a shovel and starts to slowly go through the motions. But Luke takes a different approach. He works quickly. Then someone else joins him. And soon everyone is running, joking, while the bosses stare in disbelief. Nothing like this has ever happened before.

They reach the end of the road, drenched with sweat and covered in dirt, but with the sun still high. They let out whoops of joy as they realize they have 2 hours of “sweet nothing” to do.

Just because it’s work, it doesn’t mean you need to do what everyone else does. At your firm, even for mundane problems, you can tap into the passion and productivity we see in social movements.

You can choose to be different. To make a difference. To drive change at work.

About John Stepper

Helping organizations create a more collaborative culture – and helping individuals access a better career and life – by spreading the practice of Working Out Loud.
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5 Responses to Driving enterprise change in a scalable way (Part 2 of 2)

  1. John says:


    Great insights. Please continue with your blogging.

    The reference to Cool Hand Luke is interesting. I always saw a larger religious overtone to the character and movie and less of a business/management link. However, Luke drove a change that sr mgmt/execs( the warden) could not. The prisoners, also known as employees, had always just gone along. No reward for changing behavior. Go along and get along – agree with mgmt and collect a paycheck. Luke’s “reward” was to be tracked down and shot although he did try to escape frequently. Andy Dufresne, Tim Robbins’ character in The Shawshank Redemption, was another prisoner that tried to create change – educate prisoners and build a library. The warden would never have done this until there was something in it for him – money laudering which could be a higher stock price reference. 😉 Eventually, Andy has a better fate than Luke. But Andy had to crawl through a long tunnel of sewage to escape. Sadly, Luke never made it.

    Keep the weekly flow. I do really enjoy the ideas you are presenting.

  2. Great post John.
    I was just watching another video today talking about how passion is the key to work in today’s world and it would seem that you (and I) concur. You can see that here if interested. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkO1KV0UHQI

    Keep it up!


  3. Thanks, John. Great posts. p

  4. Pingback: An idea for saving 10,000,000 dollars + 10,000 lives | johnstepper

  5. Pingback: Genomics, polio, and turning social business into a discipline | johnstepper

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