Bottom-Up Change Management

Fifteen years as a leader for different teams I noticed the need for change management and the low success rate for change management. Regretfully nothing has changed. The failure rate of change management still remains at 70%. Yet, the same advice and messages about the right ways do change management. What other proof is needed to explain that current models are not working?

What is the alternative?

There is one common fact to all of the current change management models: they are a top-down approach. The leadership of the company decides what is wrong, what is needed to improve the current state, and how it should be done. After their decision, they are using many models (Lewin’s, McKinsey 7S, Kotter’s, etc.) to explain how to get people involved in implementing someone else ideas.

The facts and reality show that this approach simply fails! The alternative is the Bottom-Up approach. It is an approach that involves people who are needed to implement the change in all the thinking and decision making prior to starting change management by preparing people for the proposed change. 

People do not like change, we all know that. When the “change” is a result of people’s decisions and not the result of external decisions they don’t see the implementation of their decisions as a change. This is not a new or revolutionary idea, but for some reason, it’s less used in change efforts. 

How to do bottom-up change?

Let’s look at one alternative that takes a bottom-up approach. Change management needs to address the needs of two different perspectives in organizations. It needs to support the need of the company or a bigger group (global needs), and the need for small groups and people (local needs). 

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The Model

The global needs focus on identifying necessary changes, selecting which opportunities have more priority, and verifying that the change created the expected results. The local groups need to influence the actual change, how it will be implemented, to feel they are part of a company and an influencer on the company’s success, and their own future success. 

The model distinguishes three actions that are needed to be performed by the bigger group and three actions that the local groups should be responsible for. In a nutshell, the global group identifies the need for a change, prioritize which changes need to be executed, and measure if the changes that took place with the expected goals. The local group translates the need for a change to a clear goal, they adjust and come with ways how to reach the goal, and they measure their progress and success.

Both of the groups have to make a decision if a pivot is needed after reviewing what they measure. The global group might change priorities or stop a change initiative, the local group can pivot how they implement the change. 

This dual focus process is an infinite effort to continuously change the company and improve it. The pivot step is in between the two groups of attraction points for a reason. At this point, there are many options available. The change can keep on rolling locally, the change can move back to the global group, the global group can keep the change globally (not recommended) and not roll it locally, or they roll it locally. 

In real-life, the model can have unpredictable cycles throughout the process or just in the global or local circles. 

Final Words

This model enables a bottom-up approach to change management. It involves people and gives them the option to drive the change and hold them accountable to perform it. This approach brings several ways to drive the change. Like in evolution, one of the ways will prove itself as the better option for different types of groups and will become the common change management for them. 

The model encourages the initiation for global change but enable local groups to find the best way that works for them to implement the change. It also provides governance and control on the local and global sides to adjust and ensure that the change is taking place and brings the right approach.

We have been using this approach for the past five years with a high percentage of success. Like everyone else, we used to leverage the classical models and experience a high percentage of failures. Learning from our mistakes and from science we discovered a better way to implement changes. 

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