Many organisations still seem to be fixated with centralised ‘top-down’ change programmes. There are several reasons for this:
- Current cost reduction pressures generate drives toward control and standardised procedures
- Top-down is an easy option, deceptively assumed to require limited resourcing
- Control and big ‘roll out’ change programmes act to legitimise the budgets and jobs of in-house HR Learning & Development groups. Top-down becomes a euphemism for cottage industry.
Yet despite the profusion of change project spreadsheets and corporate message emphasising the latest official virtues, outcomes are frequently disappointing. Structures change, but people remain dis-engaged. Discretionary effort lies un-tapped and everyone waits for the next change wave, the next set of PowerPoints and glossy posters. Over time, indifference and entrenched behaviours are reinforced.
How might we improve on these common outcomes?
One step here is to actively design change programmes to include a balance of top-down and bottom-up change initiatives. TORI Global’s approach is to establish broad strategic change objectives with senior leaders and then to seek to engage operational level change transformers in designing and delivering the local versions of those larger aims. The outcome of course is much greater buy-in and local commitment to change, not least because it is largely designed by the consumers of the new direction for themselves. Building energy for change, creating fast adaptation to local exigencies, tracking milestones set by participants, are the name of the (successful/faster/deliverable) game.
So ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ change initiatives are not mutual opposites. Effective delivery of change plans instead requires a careful blend of both.
See it like a piece of engaging music, or like Senge (1990), or as a recipe for a meal – you do need a strong, recurrent platform of basic notes, basic ingredients. But complementing this needs to be informally based improvisations, local adaptations of the central theme to accommodate for local conditions. Only by enhancing the latest change programmes ‘driven’ – or even ‘executed’ – by Corporate or HR; only by using again the energy and experience of employees can we generate momentum for change on-the-ground.