The larger and more formal the organization, the more resistant to change it will be. What this means for communities or social intranets is that, after implementation, it will still take a long time to change employees’ behaviour. So should the organizational culture be changed first, before investing in a social platform? No – this blog will show you that giving employees a social platform is instrumental in any large-scale organizational change.


Traditional change processes often start with managers with a plan. They see a new vision for their organization, and want to immerse their employees in this vision through different channels. Although meetings will be held for others to give input, this will have little impact on management’s original vision. The problem with these forced changes is that they do not come from within. Employees have little or no say or ownership in the changes which are about to be made. This makes it hard to internalize changes, and makes people revert back to their ‘old ways’ as soon as the change programme has been completed.

You’ll probably sense that a personal interest in change can only be sparked by you being inspired by hearing or seeing something from someone, whether it be about adopting a healthy lifestyle or working on self-improvement. This will motivate you to plan your own journey, which will lead you to the goal you’re trying to achieve. With a bit of trial and error you’ll probably get quite far. What characterizes this process is that you do it voluntarily and you control the process. This is the only way to make lasting changes. This is not to say that management-dictated changes are impossible by definition, but it does mean that the approach will have to be drastically different than before.


Communities are based on a structure and a way of working which are eminently suitable to change. In her LinkedIn blog, Rachel Happe (founder of the Community Roundtable) wrote:

Community managers very rarely tell people to do anything. Instead they generate behavior change by creating an environment where some behaviors are easy and others are hard through community architecture, UX, behavior modeling, rewarding desired behaviors, triggering incremental new behaviors, moderating out negative behaviors and ensuring positive behaviors are socially reinforced.

The first requirement is therefore an environment (online network) based on autonomy and trust. These are the prerequisites. On top of this, you need to engage people on an emotional level. There has to be a ‘call’ for change, as Renee Dineen says. This ‘call’ is created by a higher purpose which we can aspire to and which appeals to us. This change is then achieved in co-creation with others. This creates a sense of camaraderie and shared responsibility for the final result. In the words of Renee Dineen:

Co-creation is the intentional and yet organic process of bringing together different groups and perspectives to jointly produce a mutually valued outcome. Community is the feeling of fellowship that is created as a result of sharing these common attitudes, interests, and goals.

Online communities provide options for organizing this process. Initiatives can be created organically and without the involvement of management. There are also tools to inspire others (blogs) and to join forces (groups). A community manager monitors the process and provides guidance, without imposing.

Dual operating system

Many organizations combine a formal hierarchy with an informal network structure. The informal part is often already facilitated with a social intranet. The two systems co-exist and do not rule each other out, and both are necessary for organizing change. This is illustrated in this drawing by Julian Stodd:

There is tension between the two systems, which has to be taken into account, but if organized properly, an organization can benefit optimally from the strengths of both. The community (the informal network) is carried by volunteers and passion. This makes it able to accommodate changes much better, whereas the formal structure is much too cumbersome to do so. According to Ville Kilkku, this dual operating system is based on five principles:

  • Many people driving important change, not just the usual suspects
  • A “get-to” mindset, not a “have-to” mindset.
  • Action that is head and heart-driven, not just head-driven
  • More leadership, not more management
  • An inseparable partnership between the hierarchy and the network, not just an enhanced hierarchy


We now know that the social platform is a facilitator, but how exactly do you organize organizational change? According to Julian Stodd, management must formulate a broad vision which can be fleshed out by individual employees. This allows the employee room to add their own experiences and stories to this vision. Co-creation thereof happens in the network. This will only work if the original vision is broad enough, and is open to revision by employees. Crowdsourcing or ideation bring new ideas about the change to the surface at a rapid pace. Ideas can be discussed and developed in online forums, and employees can continue developing their own ideas in groups. Good community managers consciously harvest all these variations on the original vision by means of storytelling. It is precisely these individual community member stories that form the inspiration to spark the fire in others. In the words of Julian Stodd:

We can use active storytelling approaches to do this ‘anchoring‘ of individual story to organisational change, for example, using a co-created magazine that is written by the community week by week as they take ownership of, set direction for and enact change activity. The organisation’s role becomes not content creation, but rather adding a layer of context around these stories. To frame them around the organisational change.

Change agents

Every organization has people who are more open to new experiences than the rest. These are the allies of change. This group of people is often referred to in the literature as the guiding coalition or change agents. They are a small group of volunteers who help the community manager make large-scale change happen. They’re the ones who make it scalable in the first place. It is impossible to reach everyone on your own, so it is a smart strategy to limit yourself to a group of informal leaders who are sympathetic to the initiative. They will be the first to familiarize themselves with the change through co-creation. The community manager gives them the materials, training and leadership skills to inspire others, and their inspiration can then ripple across the rest of the organization.

VenJ Connect

This is already happening in practice. VenJ Connect is the online community which was taken into use for the change objective at the Ministry of Security and Justice. In the community, employees can discuss the change objective, and tips, ideas and experiences can be exchanged. VenJ Connect is brought to the attention of employees during the Veranderestafette, the SG tour and the summer school. Discussions started during these sessions can be continued on VenJ Connect. Specific groups can be set up for this purpose.

Digital transformation

Communities can really be used for any type of change. It makes no difference whether the objective is to introduce ‘smart working’, to implement a more transparent way of working or to achieve more collaboration between departments. But where they are most interesting is in digital transformation, because if there is one thing that’s certain in the world of digital transformation, it’s that change is a constant. Organizations will have to keep adapting to changes on the outside. Dion Hinchcliffe has devised a separate model specifically for communities and digital transformation.

communities en de digitale transformatie

He states that any change must be navigated in short cyclical stages. A network is essential here because it is the only way to move quickly enough to keep up with the rapid changes on the outside.

If your organization is on the eve of a major change process, do not hesitate to get in touch with us.


Peter Staal

Community Building Consultant at Bind