HOW TO: Support change from the ground up
Updated: May 2
Leader-led change is a common catch-cry when it comes to Organisational Change Management. And it's true - leaders (especially senior leaders and executives) hold so much authority, influence and often purse-strings, that it is absolutely critical to get leaders on board with any change.
Why then, does so much leader-led change fail?
You did all the right things - you engaged all the senior stakeholders, the sponsors, the execs. And yet... [cue frustrated groan]. It's because the leaders are the tip of the iceberg, the part you see above the water. But the bulk of the impacted teams you've not yet engaged in a meaningful way. Remember that scene from Titanic? The one where the BOTTOM of the iceberg rips a hole in the hull and thousands perish in freezing water. Yeah, that's the rest of the team.
We know that line managers play a super important role in getting their team members on board with any change. In fact TJ and Sandar Larkin (2006) point out that people are up to 9x more likely to adopt a change if their direct manager discusses it with them, rather than a senior leader or a representative from another area.
But the bulk of line managers are often middle managers and by the time change filters down to them it's already so diluted in message and meaning that your change never had a chance of landing with your iceberg bottom.
So what's a Changie to do?
Engage the team members directly in meaningful activity that has them resonate with the change. This could take the form of:
- co-designing the solution or future (see my free Job Hackathon Planning Workbook)
- hacks and innovation labs
- marrying up The Engagement Formula (see my previous post on this)
- inviting them to take a more active role in the change itself
- creating networks
- empowering team members with training that doesn't tell them what to think, but how to think (and how to own their own skills, role and career).
Despite its value, this last one is the one I see the least, and I think it's because leaders are a little scared. Empowering team members too much... surely they'll then want things to improve, they'll expect too much of us, or they'll not want to do their job anymore. But you actually end up with a more committed, more innovative and more vibrant team - sure, some might go. But the ones who stay will be so much more engaged and confident about themselves, their role and the change.
What does this lead to? A beautiful meeting in the middle between top-down, leader-led change and bottom-up, grassroots energy and motivation for a bright future. And not a shipwreck in sight.
Lata Hamilton is the Founder & CEO of Passion Pioneers, an Executive Coach and Change Leadership Trainer. Sign up to her Change Inspiration mailing list here to get weekly goodies such as articles, templates, tools, videos and upcoming courses direct to your inbox.