Making Your Culture Contagious

During some recent business travel, I finally had the opportunity to read Contagious – Why Things Catch On, by Jonah Berger.  Berger is a professor of Marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.  While the book clearly had a focus on marketing, I was struck by the implications the book held for driving cultures.

Berger examines what it takes to help make things go viral. He looks at the dynamics involved for an idea or product to take off. When looking to create, enhance or implement an organizational culture, one could certainly benefit from some of the ideas suggested by the author.

While Berger describes six principles that are most influential in making something contagious, three of them are particularly relevant to driving culture.

Here’s a quick look at each:

  1. Triggers. Berger suggests that we need some type of trigger to remind people to talk about a product or idea. He notes that, “Top of mind leads to tip of tongue.”  At High Performing Culture, we work with clients to develop “rituals.”    These are a variety of activities designed to insure that the ideas and language of your desired culture are repeated clearly and consistently. This repetition leads to adoption and internalization of desired behaviors.  These rituals become the “triggers” that remind your team to think and act in ways consistent with the culture.
  1. Emotion. The author stresses the importance of striking an emotional chord.   He states that we need to make the audience or contagious-04customer (or our employees) feel something if we expect them to share something. When defining and teaching the specific behaviors desired in your culture, there must be an emotive quality to them.  Interestingly, many of the behaviors embraced by our clients have a contagious element to them.  “Being Positive” and “Assuming Positive Intent” are two such examples.    The very nature of these behaviors results in their spreading within an organization when they are practiced consistently. It’s probably not coincidental that both of these behaviors resonate on an emotional level.
  1. Public. Berger asks, “Can people see when others are engaging in our desired behavior?” He talks about creating products or ideas that stick around long after the initial purchase of the idea or product. He calls this “behavioral residue.”  Again, this speaks to the importance of rituals.  Rituals keep the focus on these ideas well beyond their initial introduction.     Beyond rituals, we need to look for the countless opportunities to highlight and share examples of desired behaviors in action.   For example, if we see an employee delivering legendary customer service (a common desired behavior among our clients) we need to let the entire organization know about it. We should let our other customers know about it as well.

Making products or ideas contagious can and should be an intentional process.  And the same is true for your culture.  If you’d like to learn more about how to do this, just give us a call or shoot us an email.

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