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Organize Before You Mobilize

Have you ever mistakenly leapt to mobilizing people without organizing first?


hen you have a great idea for how to improve things at work, your


eagerness to get results may lead you to quickly push for approval and then leap to “mobilizing” people.

This is a common tendency among high performers.This would also be a big mistake.


Mobilizing is when you direct people to take action in a coordinated fashion (like a military general mobilizing troops in the battlefield). While it is an essential part of running a project, mobilizing by itself usually leads to a dead end.

As mentioned in How to think about resistance, employees will not make a long-term committed change in their work routines just because a formal decision has been made, even if that decision comes from senior managers.

In the long history of social, political, and labor movements, the most impactful campaigns have always shown that if you want to successfully mobilize people to take committed action, you need to lay the groundwork first by "organizing." 

What is Organizing?

In simple terms, organizing is when you empower people to take action together—now and in the future. 

Even though mobilizing gets all the media attention (marches, strikes, etc.), a successful social organizer spends the vast majority of their time organizing because they are acutely aware that they cannot make a change in their communities by themselves, and that change takes time, requiring a foundation that will last. This is equally true in your work situation.1

Let’s be clear, organizing is a broad topic. Most likely, not all aspects of organizing are relevant for getting approval of your idea and implementing it successfully at work (unless you are planning to start a labor movement. 2 However, many core parts of the organizer’s mindset apply to work situations, and the organizer’s overall strategy has two pillars that definitely apply to leading change at work: a formal process and an informal process.

What is Organizing?

The formal process focuses on presenting a business case in order to get approval from formal decision-makers and/or committees. The informal process focuses on bringing people into a coalition that is committed to achieving a shared goal. While these processes appear quite different, they are most effective when they go hand-in-hand. 3

The formal and informal processes need to go hand-in-hand

While the formal process will be addressed in a separate article, we’re going to explore the core activities of the informal process in this insight:

These two activities are highly interdependent, but let’s take a brief look at each one separately.

The importance of relationships

Map the Stakeholders


As with any journey, in order to reach your destination, you need an accurate map of the landscape. In any kind of community—including organizations—people are the landscape. "Stakeholder mapping" is when you identify all the people who have a “stake” in the outcome of your project idea, then you categorize them according to how they behave and interact with each other.


Mapping the various groups in their communities (referred to as “demographics”) gives social organizers a great deal of insight into what people care about, who they’re talking to, and how these complex networks of relationships influence people’s decisions and actions. Having this level of insight at work gives you a much deeper understanding of how your organization really works. And this knowledge makes it easier for you to focus your energy on the right people at the right time. This is where the ground game comes in.

Map the Stakeholders

Run the Ground Game


The "ground game" is ultimately about creating a feeling of co-ownership, so that people are committed to taking action.


“Running” the ground game at work is when you take the time to speak with stakeholders and key stakeholders in a series of conversations, so that they are informed about the challenge (or opportunity) and the project idea you are proposing, and they are invited to be part of the solution. Throughout the ground game, you slowly move each person up the pyramid of co-ownership.3 


There is a very important interplay between the ground game and stakeholder mapping. When building a coalition, stakeholder mapping guides your selection of whom to speak with, and the people you speak with often mention other stakeholders to speak with.


Run th Ground Game

The magic of the ground game is that every conversation has a "multiplier effect": not only does it have a direct impact on the person you are speaking with, but it has an indirect impact on other conversations that you are not part of.

Purple Background


While not every aspect of social organizing can be applied to creating change at work, hopefully you are starting to understand the power of stakeholder mapping, and running the ground game. More importantly, you should have a sense of the continuous interplay and overlap between these two organizing activities. By mapping the various stakeholders in your organization, you are able to speak with the right constellation of people so that you can build a strong coalition.
The amount of time, planning, and work you should put into organizing depends on several factors: the size and structure of your organization, the history and culture of your organization, and how much of a change you will be asking people to make in the way they work. Having said that, no matter what the circumstances are, you can be certain that organizing increases the likelihood of getting project approval and mobilizing people to take action once the project is launched. And as a bonus, it builds a stronger
community of people who are invested and committed to the long-term goals of your organization.

Reflection Questions

1. How much do you think about organizing at work (e.g. every day, only on big projects, never)?

2. What obstacles normally prevent you from taking more time to organize before mobilizing? For example: 

  • time pressure from colleagues/management

  • own eagerness to get results

  • lack of understanding of the importance of organizing

  • etc.


3. When you have succeeded in the past—either in getting approval and/or in organizing people—what did you do that lead to that success?

  • Why was the approach you used effective?

  • Would it be effective in your current context? Why or why not?


4. Have you seen colleagues effectively drive change through organizing?

  • What did they do in terms of organizing that lead to their success?

  • How could you apply their approach in your own situation?


  • Are you currently working on something that would benefit from more organizing? Take time to reflect on how you could build a coalition, map the stakeholders, and run the ground game.

  • Find ways to introduce the organizing mindset into how you plan projects with colleagues.

  • Ask colleagues about their organizing tactics. Find out what their success stories and challenges have been and try to identify what lead to those successes or challenges.

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