10 things the Ice Bucket Challenge teaches us about managing workplace change.

10 things the Ice Bucket Challenge teaches us about managing workplace change.

In America, it has reportedly raised over $100million for ALS charities, and in Ireland alone, it’s estimated to have reached over €1.4million for the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association.  Maybe you took part and/or donated to the cause, but one thing is for sure – you’re DEFINITELY aware of it.

There aren’t many things that gain such impressive momentum in such a short space of time – especially in the world of work and organisational change.

So, here’s a light-hearted take on 10 things we can learn from the Ice Bucket Challenge.


1. The medium matters.

Even great ideas need to be released through the right medium for them to be successful. Facebook was the perfect medium not just because it has huge numbers of users, but because it’s designed for quick and easy sharing of videos and the interaction (ok, the slagging off!) that follows. Also, it’s something that almost everyone already uses, so the medium wasn’t an additional thing to buy into and wrap their heads around.


2. Word spreads quicker through friends.

Imagine the charities had tried to spread the word through Facebook ads, directly targeting each user. Yes, they’d have been asking people to do the exact same thing, for the same reason (and most likely have done a better job of explaining the medical conditions and good work being done), but there’s no way it would have been anywhere near as successful. Why? People trust their friends, not adverts. Win people over and then make it easy for THEM to win their friends over too.


3. It takes a firm shove to get people (even friends who trust you) out of their comfort zones.

Without a fairly significant bit of pressure, in the form of nominations and time limits, the campaign (even if it didn’t start out as an official “campaign”) wouldn’t have reached so many people and gotten such involvement.


4. People come alive when they’re doing something new and uncomfortable…

Once people decided to complete the challenge, they really got a kick out of it – just look at the smiles, laughs and wide-eyed energy after they’ve done it! That’s the key – they DECIDED to get uncomfortable, which meant they were much more invested in it.


5. … but not if it’s something TOO uncomfortable.

Although the challenge involved having freezing cold poured over you and looking like a plonker in front of all your friends (and the neighbours who looked out the window when they heard your squealing), the discomfort wasn’t TOO major. People weren’t being nominated to climb Croagh Patrick on their knees – it was short-lived, manageable and harmless – and they could do it in their back garden.


6. People only need ‘enough’ information to decide.

They didn’t need to know all of the ins and outs of Motor Neurone Disease / ALS – in fact, many people still don’t know that much about it, even after taking part. But the aim was not to create experts, it was to create awareness and support, and people only needed the headlines to achieve this. It also helped that there were a few trusted, well-known and well-liked celebrities giving it their support. The challenge for the charities now is to decide how they build on this awareness and leverage the support to make an even greater difference.


7. Momentum makes a difference.

There were regular updates – from the media and the charities in question. They didn’t need every single Facebook user to take part, but once they got a critical mass, things really took off. On a similar note, timing is crucial – can you imagine this challenge competing with the strong feelings about water metering at the moment (but we won’t go there!). This is often down to blind luck, but it pays to think and plan ahead to make sure you’re not competing with other things for people’s attention.


8. The social element matters.

People at work could do it. Men and women could do it. 69 year old grannies or 5 year old kids could do it – but, even better, they could do it TOGETHER. Making it a social event made everything easier: finding out about it, understanding it, encouraging action, sharing the experience and talking about it afterwards.


9. People like structure, not rigidity.

It was clear what participants had to do… thank someone for the nomination, pour freezing cold water over yourself, while being filmed by someone giggling uncontrollably at your discomfort, and then stutter out a nomination before running for a warm shower. But … within this structure, people could change their chosen charity if they really wanted, or do it as a group, or pour money over themselves instead of water. There was room for creativity and for people to show some ingenuity and innovation – very human traits after all.


10. People need to know, and buy into, the “why?”

It wasn’t the “what?”, “how?” or “when?” that convinced so many people to take part– but the “why?” And there were 2 parts to that “why?”:

  1. The philanthropic reasons (“I’ll be making a difference”), and
  1. The selfish reasons (“it’ll be a bit of fun and I’ll feel good about myself”).

Human nature means that people usually make their decisions and act on the selfish reason first and the philanthropic reason is a bonus. Nothing wrong with that – but it’s worth knowing!


And, if I was to squeeze in a bonus point, it would be this:


11. Saying “thank you” and spelling out the difference people made is important.

I’ll let this short video make the final point for me …

Have we missed any? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.


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