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Top Down or Bottom Up Approaches to Successful Change

Ideally your approach to change would be personal!  You make sure your team members buy into it, own it, implement it, and are rewarded for it in their work relationships. Yet, today we still see many leaders using Top Down Change as the default approach without considering the impact on productive relationships.

Why is building productive relationships so important?

As somebody once said, “Performance is Personal Before it is Organizational”.  None of us work in a vacuum.  Improved workplace performance requires productive relationships with peers, bosses, subordinates, customers, clients, vendors, suppliers, and the community.

What is the essence of productive relationships?

In our survey of 1072 business leadersFocusing Change to Win contributors indicate that their organizations change at least annually. These changes are often unique to their organization from the triggers for change to  how it’s managed. Yet, all change has three things in common.

The Three Common Elements of All Change

Four Blocker Stop, Start & Keep Doing

It starts by defining your change in terms of :

  •  Identifying what you expect people to stop doing
  • Specifying what you expect people to start doing
  • Confirming what you want people to continue doing

Then, focus on communicating constantly:

  • Why Change
  • What is Expected and
  • What the change is not

This is the Change Expectations Framework which engages deeper understanding and helps everyone manage stress more effectively.

Just in case you think everyone does these three steps, you are probably wrong at least 70% of the time, according to studies over the last 10 years.


The crucial step, and often missed step, is facilitating feedback from your stakeholders. What they want you to start, stop and continue doing in return. You have the responsibility to set the Expectations Framework but the what and how of change comes down to aligning expectations. Then people can:


What are the benefits productive relationships?

  • Greater clarity and trust
  • Increased competitive agility
  • Faster decision making
  • Progress metrics focus on what really matters
  • Greater confidence in doing the right things right
  • Accelerated performance towards people’s potential
  • Improved extent and quality of delegation
  • Better motivation as people know what success looks like

How do you reconcile this approach with a top-down approach?

Not easily. From our survey, which is the basis for our book Focusing Change to Win, you can see these business leaders’  Change Focus.
You can see why their people feel it is still top down approach.

A top-down approach to change management implies imposed change as the initiative comes from the top. Decision-making is centralized at higher levels of the firm, excluding lower-level employees in the change process, even though they are directly affected. Top-down change is about making changes quickly and dealing with the problems only if necessary. The problem is that top down approaches to change management increases resistance.


The biggest problem in changing any organization is resistance to change. Where the leader makes all the decisions and expects subordinates to follow creates resistance to change.Regardless of how well these top level decisions are made, successful change is stunted because they ignore so much of the organization.  Naturally, people who are forced to adapt to change have the initial reaction to resist.

What are the other limitations of this top down approach?

Change based on unidirectional, rational and traditional approaches have very definite limitations. Problems to this approach include:


(1) Decision-making is limited to the top of the organization, therefore a lack of information, suggestions and ideas coming from the bottom;


(2) People at the top are not willing to listen to lower level employees’ ideas, suggestions or feedback, resulting to poor employee motivation and performance;

(3) There is very little task delegation involved in the change process, thus lower level employees can feel they are somehow incompetent and under qualified for such tasks;

(4) Keeping the change process to the upper level of the organization, breeds skepticism from amongst the lower level people;

(5) Misunderstandings because of communication problems and inadequate information of both parties;

(6) Many differing assessments to a given situation exist in lower levels and different functions. These employees have little chance to participate, do not know for sure the exact circumstances revolving around the change, and thus resist it.

Finally, the limitations of top-down change are too often symptoms of leaders clinging to the belief that power, privilege and success lie in their core  group.

Have you got an example of this top down approach and why it failed?

In previous programs I have often quoted software development and systems implementation problems. E.G. Only 7% of US Department of Defense software projects were implemented and used as intended. But, closer to home, we partnered with Salient Technologies to get a job shop scheduling system operational.

The history was a litany of missed deadlines and budget overruns. Crucially, only a few people had been consulted on what the issues were in overcoming bottlenecks and wastage. The system was seen as idealistic at best and difficult to use. Compounding the users skepticism was the positioning and training on how to use the PC’s on the shop floor. Employees resisted mightily, avoiding training and blaming the new application for their frustration. Consequently, $400,000 later, and with only one person using the system, we were asked to get the system operable and used by all those of the factory floor.

We based our approach on fast participative cycles of “Think, Do, Fix” involving representatives of the different user groups. Each week we teased out the problems and prioritized them by biggest return and what we could deliver by the next meeting. The PIT – Performance Improvement Teams had the budget and authority to make decisions. Classically this was Action Learning at its best. Within six seeks we had the system operational and being used by some 50 users across the five lines of business.

So, this was bottom up rescuing a failed top down approach. Why don’t leaders use a bottom up approach all the time?

Bottom-up change management seeks to involve those affected in the process of change. This approach seeks to avoid the pitfalls of imposed change by allowing individuals within their working groups to come to terms with change. Bottom-up is often associated with an emergent change process like trends in technology demand rethinking what markets do we want to play-in and with what technology.

This approach typically runs into several problems being too slow to respond effectively to short-term business demands. When change initiatives come from the grass roots it takes a considerable amount of time to propagate the change throughout the organization, particularly to the higher-ups. In essence, this approach is based on collective decision-making.

Why is it so time intensive?Spiraling Time

Time problems with this approach are varied.

1 There is an inevitable mismatch at the point where the bottom-up change process meets the top levels of the organization, where a different process has been at work.

2. The lower levels lack strategic perspective, thus running the risk of making people more effective at performing the wrong work.

3. Being a lengthy approach, it requires substantial energy from outside the organization to get it started. There is also the difficulty of incorporating all the perspectives and knowledge into a new system to be embedded.

4. A bottom-up approach raises questions about the motivation and skill of employees to develop an ambitious solution that will force them to change their ways.

5. Participative approaches to change can be derailed by resistant managers, unions, and workers, further lengthening the process of change.

6. Collective decision-making is by nature a lengthy process as compared to those decisions made by only a few select people.

The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) merged with Archipelago Holdings and the management’s decision to inform its members about the merger agreement was top down. Their reasoning was that the change at NYSE is first and foremost institutional. Institutional changes are usually motivated by some sort of landmark event(s) which put the higher management in motion. Secondly, a prompt, top-down approach was practical: the gradual, bottom-up approach was a worn-out path that had steadily failed in the past. Talks to take the NYSE public and transform it into a for-profit entity—in order to give it a more effective management and governance structure—started long ago, but yielded no results.

If you were a senior executive, which approach would you take and in what circumstances?

Under critical situations, a top-down approach is appropriate. Crisis calls for immediate and fast solutions, which is exactly what a top-down approach offers. In these situations, once the plan is defined by the top management, there is no turning back, as there is only one bullet in the gun, meaning only one chance to implement it. If there is great pressure to produce quick results, the organization can be paternalistic towards its employees who would more likely be reduced to helpless recipients of a crisis. Where employees are given directions and specific paths to follow and the employees are expected to follow exactly as told, without disagreement. This would make use of valuable time for vital activities rather than spending time gathering the various ideas from the lower level of the organization and consolidating them into one functioning whole.

When objectives are high, time is short and only few elements are currently available, top down is the suitable approach to change management. If the company does not want to be overrun by irrelevant details brought about by a participative decision-making advocated by the bottom-up approach, and especially in situations where timing is crucial to the success of implementing change, it is best that the organization adapt a top-down approach to change management. With the quick nature of decision-making required of a crisis situation which is characteristic of the top-down approach.

When is a bottom up approach more appropriate?

Where innovation is needed, bottom-up is more appropriate in change management. Innovation is essentially participative, and relies on a variety of ideas by involving everyone in the organization. When such wealth of information is needed, matching the ideas from at the lower level and those from the Leadership, make for collective decision-making. It breeds an atmosphere of innovation within the company, making it easier to pave way for change inside it.

In allowing everyone in the firm to participate in the change process, there are naturally various sources of information at hand that the top level managers can bring into one useful and innovative whole. When collective decision-making is supported, people are tasked with the responsibility of contributing anything he or she can for the betterment of the company, thereby carrying everyone on the crest of success

How do you use these two approaches together?

These two approaches are ineffective by themselves. Breakthrough improvements in performance can only be achieved by blending these two. It’s a question of how you blend them. Top-down direction setting creates focus and the conditions for performance improvement. It then needs to be blended with a broad-based, bottom-up performance improvement to get people at all levels to take a fresh approach to solving problems and improving performance.

The best way is to think of your organization as a Learning Organization in which participative management and people’s interconnectedness are supported by the leadership. Improved knowledge and skills are seen as important resources to determine organizational success, and the organization can be improved by focusing on the learning process. The guiding principle is that the more involvement of those affected, the more fruitful the experience may be to all concerned.

How would you define the Learning Organization and why is it so important to understand?


An organization that facilitates and encourages Competitive Learning of all its members and so continuously transforms itself. Learning organizations develop as a result of the pressures facing modern organizations and enables them to remain competitive in the business environment


The key is how organizations process their managerial experiences. Learning Organizations learn from their experiences rather than being bound by their past. In such organizations managers are not measured by what they know (that is the outcome of learning), but rather by how they and their team learn. Management practices encourage, recognize, and reward:

  • Transparency
  • Openness
  • Systemic thinking
  • Team and individual creativity

There is no ‘one best way’ for all organizations. Structure, and therefore performance, is dependent upon the particular circumstances, situational variables, faced by each organization. There is a balance between top-down and bottom-up, which will require careful thought by managers. Although top-down efforts create the focus and the necessary preconditions for transformational change, they alone are not sufficient to achieve it. It would be more accurate to say that change should be initiated bottom-up and sustained top down.

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© Copyright All Rights Reserved, The Crispian Advantage. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nick Anderson, The Crispian Advantage and Walk the Talk – A Blog for Agile Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Managing Relationship Tensions & Conflict

To Listen to this Radio ShowThe Strongest Shape in Construction and in Managing Change


During many consulting engagements we identified that organizational misalignment as a major factor in organizations and individuals were not achieving goals

This changed our focus to ground other work by aligning people’s expectations first, before designing learning, coaching etc. Over the last 10 yrs, we have developed an alignment practice with AlEx™, by serving companies in Canada and the US.

Consequently this approach has helped clients add millions in sales, bring construction projects in on time, and successfully transition family-owned businesses.

Regular readers will remember I was talking about how many change projects were planned in response to the economy yet almost half of the respondents indicate that a significant number of change projects failed to meet their stated goals.

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We have learned that anticipating and managing misalignment goes to the root of building successful change. And so my theme this month Managing Alignment Challenges so that you can increase the odds that the change you’re planning will achieve its desired results.

Today, I want to focus on people alignment but recognize that alignment of resources with strategy, for example, are other important components of successful change. It’s a big subject. But one thing is for sure – Change has to be personal before it can be organizational…

In your experience what are the main points for listeners to consider in improving the odds of making a change work?

For this blog I will focus on one of three key areas:

  1. Managing Conflict and Relationship Tension – Subsequent programs and blogs I will cover…
  2. Managing Complexity
  3. Improving Performance

The first is essential to recognize that there will be conflict and you have to manage it. Too often it’s the 800lb Gorilla in the room. I chose the second as the need for change can seem deceptively clear yet being comfortable with complexity is something people want to avoid. Thirdly, if you are not actively focused on improving performance…why are you changing?

The last point seems obvious…why else would people want to change…?

For Example, if you are in China many changes get caught up with ensuring the leaders don’t “lose face”. In Corporate America, newly appointed leaders want to put their “stamp” on their tenure….there’s a primal nature to new leaders that we often cloak in business school speak, like “we needed a change of direction to improve the businesses performance….blah, blah, blah” And, of course, then there are the two ugly sisters – Greed and Ego.

The point about improving performance is that leaders start out pontificating about this subject yet get caught up in the first two and lose sight of change’s central purpose.

So, you have the Eternal Change Triangle. If you go into a change with these things in mind you have the strongest structure on which to base change. If you don’t see or manage these three you will be flying a jet without any sense of direction.

Why do you think people don’t recognize the first two’s importance?

In my experience, especially in this economy, too many leaders can get caught up in expediency – a compulsion “to do something” NOW!

Back to an earlier blog, this call to action that is so prevalent in our culture. Though, the strangest thing I am about to say seems to contradict myself:

Despite the ubiquity of business planning education in entrepreneurship, there is little evidence that planning leads to success (Honig)

(You are going to have to unpack that one for me…and the listeners…LOL)

On the one hand, Mark Hurst on his Blog quotes Calvin Coolidge,

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

The trouble with the Coolidge’s take on success is, as Mark points out, that persistence is only effective if there’s a clear goal.Like the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, a sort of feline Clausewitz. Alice asks which way she should go, and the Cheshire Cat answers:
Cat in Alice in Wonderland


For me that means, You have to stop and take time to find the direction. You can’t run while you’re reading the map. Too many leaders focus on the end goal and not enough time on:

  • How are we going to get people to not only accept change but also be committed to changing?
  • How are we going to manage this change and keep making money?
  • How are we going to manage SNAFU’s (define)?

To summarize

“The general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.”
-Sun Tzu, the Art of War

Let’s turn to this month’s theme,

 What are Some of the Benefits of Proactively Managing Conflict?

Our work in aligning people on construction projects with Turner Construction, strongly suggests that there 8 benefits

  1. Helps develop a healthy attitude to managing rather than hiding conflict.
    • Helps objectify disagreements and prevents things getting personal
  2. Reduces the distracting and destructive products from poorly handled conflict situations.
    • Defend Attack Spirals have destructive long lasting effects that last year
  3. Helps harness diverse views and experience in the project team for the good of the overall project and Owner.
    • The power of accepting the “Half Baked” is an inclusive stance not poorly thought out
  4. Helps handle change as change progresses and manages the constant flow of information between key players…e.g. Owners, consultants and contractors.
    • Plays to an earlier program, Clauswitz on not being caught up in sequential thinking – Change is not start with A, then B, then C
    • Change is A learn and choose B or C or both knowing that B & C need to be accomplished
    • Too many leaders have a touching reliance that they have complete knowledge
  5. Addresses the tensions in managing the change dynamics as during the change life cycle

If you’re leading such a change, what are the typical examples of change dynamics?

Very often leaders have a false sense of control, and if for example they commission consultants or create teams things take on a life of their own

6. Another dynamic is my sixth point…Recognizes that as work precedes the relative bargaining strengths of the parties are constantly adjusting. Standard approaches to planned change do not take this into account.

In more formal changes, like in construction we find that we need to help teams

7. Overcome the inflexibility inherent in standard contracts. For example, one contract assumes that the design is complete at the time of bidding and that the contractor employs most of the resources that will be required for the project. The fact is, design is rarely 100 % complete at the time of bidding and contractors subcontract most of the work.

Most importantly, aligning people as we do…

8. Develops Project Teams while recognizing their different rules of engagement. AlEx™ recognizes and helps facilitate different project needs and rules of engagement, like:

  • Changing Owner demands
  • Rapid learning
  • Generating and maintaining effective interaction between team members so that they can exchange views and debate the consequences of their decisions in an open and honest forum.
  • Changing circumstances over the project’s lifecycle.
  • Shifting relationship tensions between the major members of the project team.
  • Building trust for when things do not go as planned.

How would you sum up managing conflict…?

Conflict in life is a natural as breathing. What we have lost sight of especially with the backdrop of what’s happening in Washington is how do you respect another party’s opposing stance and achieve successful change…I heard a item on the radio about the Life Raft Debate where the students vote which professor they would choose to take the last place on their life raft…they chose the devil’s advocate….because all the others tried to entertain rather then debate

Here’s my tip.

If you are planning a change or are in the middle of one… many times last week did you not confront your demons and openly say:

“The Emperor has no clothes……”

It’s OK to confront the issues not the person if you don’t unaddressed conflict will fester like road kill.

Then, stand back and look at your own organization – and ask “What traps are we falling into?”

To listen to the Show 

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Need Help in  Getting Your People on the Same Page? 

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© Copyright All Rights Reserved, The Crispian Advantage. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nick Anderson, The Crispian Advantage and Walk the Talk – A Blog for Agile Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Common Communication Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them


Accurate communication can be defined as

“an idea transplant from one mind to another”Getting people on the same page

Unfortunately, between two minds there is often a breeding environment for misunderstanding and distortion. It’s where phrases like  “I don’t think we are on the same page”

 originates.  Many factors influence such distortions.  These include:

  • style and structure of the communication
  • social climate between the sender and recipient of a message,
  • integration of the message with other experience and learning
  • motivation of the recipient to listen.


Short contributions are easier to remember than long, rambling statements.  It seems also that the beginning and end of a message have more impact than the middle. The more “pieces” there are in a message, the more difficult it is for the recipient to fit them all together as the sender intended; and the more loosely the pieces are fitted together, the more likely it becomes that some important pieces get “lost in transit”.

These points become critical when combined with other factors and  adds to distortion and misunderstanding of even a well constructed message.

The recipient’s emotions can be a powerfully distorting factor, whether the emotion is hostile or favourable.  It is very difficult for someone to receive a message and then summarize it accurately if he or she strongly disagrees with it then such misperception leads to misunderstanding and conflict.  Equally distorting can be the “halo effect” created by positively supportive emotions in the recipient.

More broadly, however; the evaluation and integration of any message will be coloured by the recipient’s “general view of the world” and previous experience.  Information is not accepted by the brian in a linear, word-by-word or sentence-by-sentence fashion, but rather in a series of connections and relationships which are personal and based on individual’s own value-system.  In a group, each individual will make their own connections to words and messages, reflecting their experience and evaluation; this influence may produce as many individually coloured perceptions of one message as there are communication channels in the group. E.g 8 people can have 56 communication channels and 28 relationships.

Sometimes this connecting process offers the recipient a better understanding, as if the piece of information received acts as the final piece of a jigsaw; but if inappropriate linkages are made, faulty interpretation will result.


Research carried out earlier this century by Sir Frederick Bartlett identified four main kinds of error occurring in the passing on of messages.  They can have critical effects, when, as often happens in organization, the recipient of a message has to pass it along a “chain” of other people.

Such ineffective communication can be disastrous.

Once more unto the breech….

There is the famous story of the British Army Commander who sent the message:
“Send reinforcements, we’re going to advance.” back to the Command Center, through a long chain of subordinates. When the message finally reached the Command Center, it had “mutated” to become “Send three and four-pence, we’re going to a dance.”

Bartlett’s Four Errors

The four kinds of error identified by Bartlett are:

  • Rationalization: 
    Here the recipient attempts to make sense of a message according to his own frame of reference, which can result in changed meaning.
  • Transformation of Detail: 
    Here the recipient changes words into more familiar language – with amusing or
    difficult consequences when “mistranslation” occurs.
  • Change in the Order of Events: 
    The recipient’s own sense of priorities, and hence of the relative
    importance of the “pieces” of the message, may lead him to change
    their order when he passes the message on.
  • Omissions: 
    Something is left out, or just forgotten, when the message is passed on.

Any one of these changes – let alone the compounding of such changes along a chain of recipients and passers-on – can have a significant effect on the accuracy of the message that reaches the end of the chain; and the costs of this phenomenon in an industrial environment can be very high. E.g. Two out of three change initiatives fail in North America – the No. 1 reason “people not getting it, people subverting it….


Communication is a complex process, and its effectiveness can be reduced by failure to take account of the factors and difficulties discussed above.

Anyone wishing to “get a message across” can help the intended recipient by ensuring that the message is not overlong and that its structure – i.e. the
relationship between the various “pieces” of the message – is made clear (the more pieces there are, the more important the structuring of the
message becomes).  It pays also to take into account how the recipient sees the world and the emotional impact the message may have on him, and to compose the message accordingly.

Two behaviours in particular can help to combat potential misunderstanding:  these are TESTING UNDERSTAND AND SUMMARIZING.  Their use will, firstly, help to identify and overcome perceptual differences and, secondly, highlight key points that need to be emphasized. This is especially true of clarifying roles in changing circumstances.

Four Blocker Stop, Start & Keep Doing




1. What I expect you to Keep, start & stop doing.
2. This is what I think you want me to stop, start & keep doing
3. What do you expect me to keep, start & stop doingg in return?
4. What do you think I expect you to keep, start & stop doing?








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                To Buy a Copy of This Book Click this Image

Need Help in  Getting Your People on the Same Page? 

Ask Nick AndersonFocusing Change To Win’s Co-Author







To Contact Us


© Copyright All Rights Reserved, The Crispian Advantage. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nick Anderson, The Crispian Advantage and Walk the Talk – A Blog for Agile Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How to lead at the Speed of Change?


4 Man Bob.

 Leading at the Speed of Change

This blog helps leaders think about leadership and reach consensus before starting a major change initiative. A critical issue is helping the team to “walk through” the range of relations they will meet managing change, dealing with the practicalities and intricacies of people, departments, factions and geographies. A large part of the task is not just ensuring leaders understand their change environment but  that the organization can continue to learn and act on over time.

Leading Change

Attempts to understand leadership has largely remained a holy grail.  The main problem has been the way people have placed undue emphasis on personality at the cost of the context in which a leader has to work. Leadership is more of a process starting with the top team and building a cohesive and collectively focused group.

The best way to define leadership is by reading many leadership definitions and then gaining consensus for your environment. Remember,

If you can’t define it, you cannot know it. If you don’t know it, you cannot do it. 

Some of the common ideas that others include in leadership definitions include exerting influence, motivating and inspiring, helping others realize their potential, leading by example, selflessness and making a difference. For perspective, here are some common definitions :

Leadership Definitions

The Collins English Dictionary: This dictionary focuses on the position (singular or collective), tenure and ability of leaders. As such, it misses key points about the purpose and hallmarks of effective leadership.

Peter Drucker :

“The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.” To gain followers requires influence (see John Maxwell’s definition below) but doesn’t exclude the lack of integrity in achieving this. Indeed, it can be argued that several of the world’s greatest leaders have lacked integrity and have adopted values that would not be shared by many people today. (Drucker Foundation’s “The Leader of the Future”  

John C Maxwell :

“Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.” This moves beyond the position defining the leader, to looking at the leader as an influencer others – both those who would consider themselves followers, and those outside that circle. Indirectly, it also builds in leadership character, since without maintaining integrity and trustworthiness, the ability to influence will disappear. (21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell)

Warren Bennis: focuses much more on the personal ability of the leader :

“Leadership is a function of knowing yourself, having a vision that is well communicated, building trust among colleagues, and taking effective action to realize your own leadership potential.”

Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester :

“The process of influencing the behavior of other people toward group goals in a way that fully respects their freedom.” The emphasis on respecting their freedom is an important one, and one which must be the hallmark of Christian leadership. Jesus influenced many diverse people during his ministry but compelled no-one to follow Him.”

Recent attempts to survey of leadership literature agree on its vast scale.  From this it is possible to separate out three models:

  • Transactional – to exchange money, jobs and security for compliance
  • Transformational – to encourage others to strive for higher goals
  • Representational – to represent features of the change process/organization to others, often not their direct reports

Despite this insufficient attention is given to:

  • Leadership as a process, and
  • The inter-woven relationship between leadership and context

“Change and flexibility is inherent in most situational leadership models…..but time and processes have been totally neglected…leader behavior is abstracted from their concrete settings and investigated in reductionist terms as if it had no past or future.”(Pettigrew & Whipp, 1987)

As we have learnt since 1987, the unpredictability of the unfolding change process makes the prospect of control remote even illusory.  Assertive action by itself is of limited value and may well be dangerous. Paradoxically, it indicates that the accumulation of more modest preparatory actions is all-important.
This includes assessing the political implications of a given strategy, through problem-sensing and climate setting within the firm.  Leadership in management seems to lie in the ability to shape the process in the longer term and not direct through a single episode.

The problems of leading change relate to managing the processes which encourage evidence-based decisions and tracking their impact.  The main weakness of earlier approaches was the almost messianic search for universal leader behaviors.  Whereas, effective change leadership requires actions appropriate to its context.  In fact there is evidence that solidifying apparently successful leadership behavior into a single mold can become a competitive liability, e.g., Hill Samuel in 1960’s and 1970’s.

Support for the need for variation in leadership comes from the area of technological innovation where “multiple influence procedures” are needed.  Mann defines such effective leadership as:

“Combining different types of leadership influence over time as different needs arise”

This does not mean the three models above are inappropriate for leading change but of limited value.  Instead those alternative types of leadership approaches are better seen as being delayed where and when they best suited the demand.

“Leading change is not a one way relationship emanating solely from the leader. Leaders are themselves affected by the forces which seek they seek to manage”

This simple observation cuts across assumptions made by many writers. They try to show the need for different leadership approaches which actually falls down when they argue for the need to “fit” leadership to company character. Attempts to make such a static, singular fit almost inevitably come undone as both leader and circumstances change.

One of the strongest features of Pettigrew & Whipp’s research is that leading change does not imply one leader.  Great emphasis in those organizations studied focused on:

  • Creating a broader notion of collective leadership at the highest level
  • Inculcating over time a complimentary sense of leadership/responsibility at lower levels

Both are vital for linking strategic and working change. This view is also supported by Art Corbett, US Marines Military Concepts Unit:

Why Mission Command?  Command by Influence

“Mission Command’s preference for decentralized decision making does not demand rigid adherence to any one methodology but by guided principled pragmatism. Essentially, any ethical means that works is viable, Mission Command supports the most advantageous means of command–by direction, by plan or by influence—depending on the situation.

The guiding Mission Command principle in all cases is to give the widest appropriate latitude to subordinate judgment in execution. This is the classic ‘centralized vision and decentralized decision making’ of mission orders. However, in the absence of central direction, Mission Command places on subordinate commanders the additional responsibility for initiating planning, integrating assigned combined arms and capabilities, and the execution of continuing action in accord with commander’s intent. Commanders who have the fortitude to trust and have cultivated a command climate of professional
respect and mutual understanding will be able to reap the full advantages of mission command in both peace and war”..


The critical tasks in leadership when managing change are more incremental often less spectacular than prevailing press images. The most succesful leaders are Radical Gradualists which involves. It involves linking actions of others at every level to the vision, mission and goals of the organization.  Early and bold actions are counterproductive.  More promising is building a climate for change while at the same time laying out new directions, but before precise actions being taken.

The primary conditions for leading change are vital. Bold precipitate leadership are costly without fulfilling the earlier need to build a climate for leading
change while at the same time raising energy levels and setting out the new directions.  The conditions needed are:

  • Building a receptive climate, which involves justifying why the changes should take place
  • Building the ability to mount the change
  • Establishing a change agenda which sets direction, visions and values, which may take several attempts to get it right.

Once in place then more direct mechanisms can be used which means that the skills of leading change therefore centers on coping with the unexpected.

For Help in Getting Your People on the Same Page ask Nick Anderson@The Crispian Advantage

E-mail  I Web  I Linkedin I Call 1+ (616) 745-8667


© Copyright All Rights Reserved, The Crispian Advantage and Walk the Talk – A Blog for Agile Minds, [2010-2012]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nick Anderson, The Crispian Advantage and Walk the Talk – A Blog for Agile Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



Leading at the Speed of Change – 9 Leadership Selection Criteria

Luge USA

Undoubtedly the Speed of Change means many leaders will have to absorb great adversity while staying true to their intent and retaining cohesion. This underscores the criticality of moral qualities and shared values. So, who do you look for to meet this challenge? Here are nine leadership selection criteria for you to consider:

                                       Nine Leadership Selection Criteria

1. Exercising Entrepreneurship 2. Taking
3. Valuing
4. Learning to Adapt 5. Distributing
Decision Making
6. Accepting Risk


7. Having Nerve 8. Adapting Command
9. Establishing

1. Exercising Entrepreneurship

The Speed of Change challenges us to adopt a spirit of entrepreneurship which takes advantage and exploits opportunity, rather than maintaining the mindset of enhancing effectiveness and efficiency for its own sake

2. Taking Initiative

Faster decisions are essential to gaining the initiative. Initiative enables leaders to dictate the competitive context. By generating a higher competitive tempo through faster decisions, smaller and more nimble companies can wrest the initiative from an otherwise dominant players.

3. Valuing Local

Education and experience greatly contribute to speed and fidelity of decision. But, most of the time, local competent leaders will make a decisions on-par or better than remote leaders. Often,

“What is significant is not common, but is unique and relevant to specific circumstances. Decentralized decision-making based on superior situational awareness enables greater operational dexterity”.  (Art Corbett)

4. Adaptive Learning

Like Combat, business today, needs adaptive learning environments.   So, Leaders have to embrace that:

1.  Making mistakes is normal, even for our best leaders, no matter how hard we work to ‘reduce risk,’ reality often defies probability in competitive, complex and emergent opportunities.

  • Experienced and intuitive decision makers will make fewer mistakes, only the risk adverse will make none.
  • Making mistakes is not a good means of judging and selecting leaders. What is far more significant is creating the potential for leaders to learn and adapt from mistakes. Leaders who don’t make mistakes have not shown the ability to recover and adapt.
  • We must cultivate a climate of risk acceptance. Our leader development processes should offer opportunities to refine judgment in the face of risk, with wide potential for failure in training to
  • identify and develop resilient leaders capable of coping with setbacks.

When you make a mistake, don’t look back at it long. Take the reason of the thing into your mind and then look forward. Mistakes are lessons of wisdom. The past cannot be changed. The future is yet in your power.Hugh White (1773 – 1840)

2.  Identifying ‘decision windows’ is key in time-competitive environments is a key skill.

  • Judging “How much time do I have to gain more information and situational awareness before  losing an opportunity to act?” The answer defines the “decision window” and frames possible alternatives.
  • Judging the sweet spot in competitive decision making means an understanding the need to dictate and control tempo. While risking taking may be personality dependent, the ability for calculated risk taking is shaped by experience.

5. Distributing decision-making distributes risk, uncertainty and learning.

Decentralized decisions:

  • Risk only a part of the organization, not the entire company,
  • Means smaller units can inoculate other units by learning not to make the same mistake.
  • Increased failure frequency accelerates learning and gives opportunity to assess the individual’s ability to recover, accept responsibility, learn and strengthen themselves.

6. Risk Acceptance 

Competition and uncertainty make risk unavoidable.

“Risk acceptance is action in the face of uncertainty. Rashness is action in the face of improbability…”(Corbett)

  • Calculated or prudent risk strives for advantage by timely exploitation or creation of favorable opportunity.
  • Risk acceptance is an essential moral quality
  • Risk tolerance reflects the character and nerve  of a leader.

7. Having Nerve

“Nerve aptly conveys the moral strength, emotional resiliency and predatory calculation that steels resolve and tempers impatience”.

It’s the ability to absorb great pressure with conspicuous calm and composed judgment. Nerve is the character trait that enables other leadership traits to thrive.

8. Adaptive Command Relationships

When subordinate leaders gain mutual understanding they can empathize with their leader’s situation, understand the operational vision, and see the trade-offs they must make.‘Sharing the burden of command’ is the outcome of this established trust.

9. Established Trust

Dutiful subordinatesshare the burden of command’ when mutual understanding enables them to empathize with the senior leader’s situation, understand their operational vision, and anticipate the trade-offs they must make.

What do you expect people to take away about leading at the speed of change?

When lives are lost because asymmetrical warfare’s complexity was not grasped, the Military responded. The result is a highly evolved command philosophy that produces disproportionate results.  Their learnings are valuable to the corporate world, in summary:

1. Senior leaders must  show the leadership…of trust, nerve and restraint to encourage initiative and a bias for action

2. Develop and select leaders who have the competitiveness  to wrest advantage away from agile competitors

3. Build cohesion by developing a spirit of entrepreneurship based on leaders having the nerve to trust, the time to teach, and the confidence to grow reciprocal relationships.

4. Develop junior leaders through opportunities for professional development and apprenticeship that exercises their judgment and examines the consequences of their decisions.


For Help in Getting Your People on the Same Page ask Nick Anderson, The Crispian AdvantageFCTW Book Cover

E-mail  I Web  I Linkedin I Call 1+ (616) 745-8667




© Copyright All Rights Reserved, The Crispian Advantage and Walk the Talk – A Blog for Agile Minds, [2010-2012]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nick Anderson, The Crispian Advantage and Walk the Talk – A Blog for Agile Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.