change management, bottom up, top down, Toby Elwin, blog

Change management bottom up or top down

Change management, bottom up, top down, goal oriented design, competing values framework

“I knew it. We can’t quite see what they are up to.”

Classic change theory: leadership drives change and leadership needs to commit for change to work.

Seems to make sense, but in reality leadership is irrelevant. The organization’s ability to change is dictated by operational units and employees, not leadership.

The reality: culture eats strategy for lunch. Your workers dictate change and strategy.

Leadership doesn’t drive change, total quality management, Lean manufacturing, or Six Sigma. None of it relies on leadership. Change relies on culture and in the case of culture, leadership is along for the ride and rarely in the driver seat.

The reason your organization changes fail is you continue to believe change has to do with you.

Organization change management has little to, and everything to, do with them.

Organizations change for their reasons, not yours, not the stockholders, not the competition, not the tax payer.

Capsize to Rightsize

If leadership does not get culture, if leadership does not realize culture is more powerful than they, themselves, are, if leadership thinks their winning smile and advanced degrees are enough to influence change, then, sadly, yes – change will fail.

In the assessment stage, I generally lead with John Kotter’s, 8-Step Process for Leading Change:

Step 1: Create Urgency
Step 2: Form a Powerful Coalition
Step 3: Create a Vision for Change
Step 4: Communicate the Vision
Step 5: Remove Obstacles
Step 6: Create Short-term Wins
Step 7: Build on the Change
Step 8: Anchor the Changes in Corporate Culture

Change is not a prescription because:

  1. All people do not have the same symptoms; and
  2. All people do not believe in the cure

The slow reality I experience time and again is that Kotter presents less a prescription than a wish list; in that you wish you could get to all the steps.  In many interactions there seems much dialogue around being aware of Kotter and less around a plan designed to implement all steps.  Similar to being aware of the gym, but never quite getting there.

Kotter’s 8-steps provide a solid structural change lifecycle for any organization to follow.  The most important step I want to get on the table and the heart of the challenge and unique to each organization is culture.  Of the 8 steps that is absolutely organization specific Step 8: Anchor the Changes in Corporate Culture is the mortar for change.

For me, this is not the 8th step, this is the 1st step. Better yet, start your change assessment with a diagnosis of your culture to understand how change will roll out or whither.

Culture:  The 8th Wonder of the Corporate World

Culture will dictate the compelling urgency and at what level the term “compelling” means to whom. I am, in no way discounting John Kotter. His book, Leading Change provides a top framework. I simply amplify the role culture has in any change effort’s likelihood of success.

Culture drives your organization’s success or drives your organization out of business, through a culture-driven framework how does your organization or business unit look at your change initiative?

Competing Values Framework, Toby Elwin, Kim Cameron, culture, strategy, profile

Think through your organization with the organization or business unit culture when thinking change and you’ll get a better gauge of the road ahead.

Even Kotter estimates 70% of all change fails. Isn’t your next effort worth a better effort and the right planning? Culture and competing values drives your organization’s resistance.

Appreciate Competing Values, Inquire Within

No one individual, or leader, can change a culture, only when a majority acts on change and localizes change can the majority not only commit to the change, but find a commitment to change by contributing themselves to change evolution.  People conform because it helps them escape uncertainty.

When you appreciate organization culture you realize change sticks through with majority.  Planning with Appreciative Inquiry works because the system facilitation relies those who live the experience to build the future state of what could be.

Leaders can inspire through a vision, but groups define that vision by placing their future in a position comfortable within that change, if there is not a comfortable position for each or for the team, the future is rejected, no matter how powerful the CEO believes themselves.

There is wisdom in crowds.

As it stands statistically your strategy will fail, so let’s start with culture, forget leadership.

Once you know more about the culture you can manage the scope needed to impact change.  A great way to have change stick is to invite the organization to build the change they are to be a part of:  to crowdsource your strategic plan.

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Comments 6

  1. Toby, you make great points here.

    I've built onto Kotter's 8 steps in my work ( Like you, I believe the culture needs to be addressed from the beginning.

    Step One: Leader understands what actually drives change (see your post).

    Step Two: Create/identify your core ideology (see “Built to Last” by Jim Collins): core purpose, core values, etc. Make sure the change you desire actually aligns with the core ideology! If not, it WILL FAIL.

    Step Three: Ignite passion for your goals. Create an energizing vision that includes the urgency to avoid something and the excitement of attaining something better. There must be something in it for everyone involved in making the change happen. Turn this into a “desired destination” that everyone wants to go to.

    Step Four: List the assets your organization ALREADY has, and give credit to existing people, systems and processes that you will use as part of the change process.

    Step Five: Involve people in meaningful ways so they can give input that helps guide the process and know their competence and importance.

    Step Six: Inspire forward momentum. Remove obstacles, celebrate success, etc. Change policies, rewards, structure, etc., so that all support the new way of being.

    Step Seven: Keep doing all six previous steps until the change is complete. Doing all this well embeds it in the corporate culture.

    1. Post

      I think your modifications take Kotter’s 8 steps to an extremely tactical “go/no go” place for an organization to answer. Thanks for sharing them.

      Bob, your comments and thoughts are really adding a lot to the site and to my thoughts. I think the collaboration and shared insight takes my examples and challenges as well as augments. Thank you for your contributions.

    1. Post

      Leadership has accountability for all that goes on within the organization they steward.

      I’ll give an example of change that leadership is not driving, but is very much responsible for: when an organization votes union.

      Culture trumps anything a leader hopes for. The more quoted version: culture eats strategy for lunch.

      Have you looked at things that have happened or failed to happen that had no intention of leadership?

  2. In any age has any other strategy, outside of the promise of death, other than selling a vision and values by showing how they really align with the spirit of the company’s culture worked? In all the research I read, much like you enspouse, people don’t want to change will be highly resistent to change unless they see it as a better path to get where they want to go.

    1. Post

      The research had never brought about clarity nearly as well as working in environments and seeing continued challenges, failures, and efforts wasted. Wasted efforts are wasted resources.

      Knowing you need to change and not knowing that other people may not want to change, may not see the same need to change, or just may need a bit more context to change brings a chance to help change succeed.

      Very little is black and white or as simple as we’d like it. The frameworks or rally cry that you, on your site or me on my site or John Kotter on his site, provide insight and a path for people, themselves, to try it again, but with new intentions to yield better results for effort.

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