Collision with the classic school of change

Or “One (out of many) reasons why bottom-up changes faces friction”

I was attending a classic HR work shop going through the classic theories for change management including the classic change curve here at the big company. A lot to be discussed but here is one reflection I made during the session:

At the moment we see a bigger need for changes in our organizational culture where one cornerstone is to go from “command and control” towards “trust and transparency”.
That includes empower to people and teams, promoting changes and improvements coming “bottom-up” through the organization.  In hand with agile we have seen many “bottom-up” initiatives starting to happen long before management knows about them (good!).
What if we read the change curve theory literally, What happens then?

Here is a scenario:
Top management comes up with the idea to “go agile” and have all employees involved, empowered and driving the change.
(This is kind of typical that top management likes bottom-up changes as long as they (the top) initiates it)
Bottom-up movements starts and throws people down along the curve and some day they are through and on the re-orientation side. Next, middle management starts to understand there is a change going on and goes into denial and reaction phase. If managers are stuck in the view that organizations shall operate hierarchical, they will not realize they are a step after their employees but on the other hand a step before their managers.

In the classic change literature this picture is found.

Here I think we can see an extra friction. While employees tries to re-orientate, they have a management in denial or reaction phase. Not much support to get there! Even worse is that managers might assume the employees is on the wrong track as they, according to classic books, shall traverse the curve later.

Without some extra spark, challenging, enthusiasm, breaking of rules this might stall the change process quite some time, at least until management is catching up (and then it’s not a true bottom-up change anymore)

Conclusion: First to change is to get managers embrace and handle true bottom-up improvements

Conclusion2: Revise the classic curve of change and change theory for company where continues improvements and frequent changes is part of daily operations.

Johan (Welund) Westerlund

Pictures: Make Change Work, Ulla Mogestad, 2000

About Johan (Welund) Westerlund

Coach, Mentor and Trainer of Teams, Leaders and Organizations in Lean/Agile Values, Principles, Methods and Tools. Founder of Uniqa Team AB
This entry was posted in Change, Leadership, Transformation, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Collision with the classic school of change

  1. Leaner says:

    I think that mastering of continuous improvement is a big shift from traditional thinking patterns especially in enterprise business where a lot of accent is put on practices, rather then principles. Thanks for the good post!

  2. Johan (Welund) Westerlund says:

    Agree, learning to change principles are harder but so much more important.

  3. Antti Jarva says:

    Apart from the psychological reaction patterns, did you discuss profiles of company management people? More precisely, what if company management consisted of objective and everything-for-the-firm people only? The same management position criteria should be valid top-down, in order to secure smooth transition into a bottom-up company culture. It is the management representing the employer that is responsible for, e.g. building the company culture.

    Best regards: Antti Jarva

  4. Johan (Welund) Westerlund says:

    In this short classic session we didn’t, but it is becoming more clear than ever that lean and agile will have implications on how we judge leadership and management.
    I’m not sure I grasp your point completely, could you elaborate your thoughts around the management criteria you are mentioning and what your are aiming at with your last sentence?

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