Top down or bottom up change – a false dichotomy

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I recently helped organise a conference about “transformational change”.  The discussion ranged widely but two questions that came up have stayed with me. The first concerns the degree to which change can be “managed” and the second, whether change should be managed “top down” or “bottom up”.  I’d like to reflect a little on those questions, starting with the second.

The view that change should be managed bottom up rather than top down is popular at the moment and seemed to be favoured in remarks made at the conference. People are suspicious of top down approaches.  They seem, perhaps, old-fashioned, hierarchical, patronising.  Bottom up approaches seem more democratic, more egalitarian, more respectful of the knowledge of the people who “do the work”.  They may also be held to be more effective because change that people choose is more likely to “stick” than change that has been imposed.

I’m not so sure.  I think we are dealing with a false dichotomy here.  I think we have no choice, in fact, but to embrace elements of both top down and bottom up approaches if we want to see significant, lasting and appropriate change. Continue reading

Change: why leaders must relinquish control

In a recent blog I argued that one of the reasons people in organisations find change difficult to cope with is the loss of control usually involved.  Change in organisations is frequently done to people.  In order to minimise resistance to change it is vital to leave as much control as possible in the hands of those affected by it. But, as a friend pointed out to me, that means those in leadership relinquishing their control.  And that, for a variety of reasons, is usually unwelcome.  But if the change you make is to be effective, it’s necessary and here’s why.

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Addressing resistance to change

I recently circulated John Beckford’s blog  challenging some of the ways in which organisations delay or avoid necessary changes.  I got positive feedback from several people but also this comment: “I think much more management consultancy needs to attend to delivery and some of the deeper resistances that lie within any one of us. The how-to seems critical”.  As I said to my correspondent at the time, that gives me a clear steer on the subject for my next blog.  Here is a link to John’s blog – I see my response to my reader’s comments very much as a companion piece: https://intelligentorganisation.com/uncategorised/toddler-steps-change-management/

So, for this blog we will assume that the organisational leadership has recognised the need to make a significant change but feels concern about the extent to which such a project will be supported or meet resistance from individuals and groups in the organisation, including, perhaps, those in leadership at the next level down in the hierarchy.  How should those leading change proceed? Continue reading

Tradition and Change

Models of organisation 4

Many years ago I had a Sunday out with friends.  It was hot, sunny, idyllic.  We wandered as the mood took us.  In the Oxfordshire country we came upon a medieval church in the centre of a village.  We went to evensong.  We may even have sung ‘The day thou gavest Lord is ended’.  We went to the village pub afterwards.  We felt not only uplifted spiritually but immersed in an almost mystic vision of England.  I loved it and I still do.  It is rather wonderful that it can still feel like this, and there is something in it that is important to hold on to.  But there is also a nostalgia for a world that is disappearing fast.

It is a truism that people tend not to welcome change and that is as true of our corporate selves as of our personal lives.  Over time organisations develop processes and habits that seem to work and which become part of the organisation’s sense of itself.  These are not readily questioned or given up.  If the organisation becomes less successful people in it may even start to believe that its declining fortunes are a failure not of the organisation but of those who are no longer supporting it. They have ceased to ‘get it’.  The answer is to work harder, to ‘keep calm and carry on’ or to develop a new marketing strategy.  These responses don’t usually work.  If it is suggested that the customer may have a point and that more radical change is required, the organisation will often defend the way it does things as a matter of principle. Continue reading

Sustainable change: 10 killer questions

It is hard to create large scale sustainable change in organisations.  You are up against ingrained cultural habits and assumptions, internal political interests and a lot of anxiety – and that’s before you think about the threats and opportunities beyond the organisation itself and the technical challenges involved.  If you are going to do it, you’ve got to give it your best shot.

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My ideal client

Today I accidentally rang my best client at 2.30 in the morning local time.  Oops. The response?  She laughed groggily, I laughed and apologised, said I’d go, but she insisted on spending 20 minutes talking about the issues I’d rung her to discuss.  I do not suggest that I have any expectation that my clients should welcome such calls, but the incident is, nonetheless, revealing.  It made me think about the relationships I aim to build with my clients and the qualities I look for in them. Continue reading