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Why Change Should Always Start At the Top … Except For When It Shouldn’t

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Why Change Should Always Start At the Top ... Except For When It Shouldn't

Change is the new (though not really that new) constant, so they say. It’s one of the core pillars of innovation, agile development, and all the buzzy things. To remain relevant and competitive, organizations must keep strong the muscles of change capability.

The management and implementation of change initiatives have been studied for years by experts, and generally, the wisdom presumes that to be successful, change must begin at the top.

The famous model developed by John Kotter, for example, offers as Step One: Create a Sense of Urgency. This presumes, in my interpretation, that the urgency for change is not apparent to all, and therefore must be created. At the top.

Now to be fair, I’m absolutely a believer in brands of change that require a Kotter-like discipline – changes like a shift in business strategy or a revised operating model. These are the changes driven by senior executives and brought to life by things like journey maps and milestones. And the sense of urgency needing to be created may be driven by P&L woes or board concerns or customer disengagement.

All of the above is real. And there are so many experts out there with the tools and capabilities to help organizations drive that brand of change. From the top.

But way too often in my experience, the change that does NOT require urgency creation, because the urgency for change is felt every day by the regular not-so-executive people, is the change that gets overlooked. Culture change is a fabulous example of this. Raise your hand if you believe culture change must start at the top.

If you’ve raised your hand, I’m not saying you’re wrong. I’m just saying you may be slightly to the left of right. You see, real culture change – the kind that’s relevant and meaningful and experience-changing, is defined the people in the trenches.

And it’s not only culture change – it can also be changes in how we operate across teams, or how information is communicated, or how we analyze and action customer feedback.

These changes are best defined and designed by those who both own the implementation and will live with the ramifications – for better or for worse.

This is the type of change that #Activation brings about. #Activation grounded in #microchanges – tiny grassroots experiments implemented simply, that minimize risk and disruption and generally deliver results within days. And some of the most impactful changes we’ve seen have come about from a grassroots approach to change, versus the top-down one.

If you want your organization’s culture to be more collaborative, for example, you can begin with a grand visioning exercise, “create the urgency” for collaboration by highlighting strategic opportunities, maybe run an organizational assessment to determine how collaborative it already is, analyze results, build an action plan, and in 3 – 5 years you’ve achieved collaboration!

Related: The Power of the Vent: A Leader’s Greatest Asset

OR.

You can identify two teams needing to collaborate better, recognize there is no need to create any urgency because those teams feel the pain of non-collaboration every day, invite three people from each of those teams to spend a day in a room identifying 10 simple practices they might try that would enhance their collaboration, implement those practices one-at-a-time, ask the teams how well each is working, and then implement the most successful ones across the entirety of those teams… and then in 3 – 5 WEEKS you’ve achieved collaboration. You’ve #activated it.

Which do you choose?

Microchange does a body good. Is there room for it within your team?

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