Change from the Bottom Up LO5281

Thu, 1 Feb 1996 09:48:11 -0600 (CST)

Replying to LO5244

It has been some time since I last peered donw from my "ivory tower." I
have been following the conversations on a number of topic areas with
great interest and felt I should venture out in regards to organizational
change from the bottom up.

A number of years ago I would have ignored the notion that any measureable
change could possibly initiate from the front-line or mid- management
levels. As a consultant and trainer from an educational provider, I told
my clients that for change to occur there must be support from the top; a
champion of the cause. It was my content at the time that no significant
improvement could be made unless it was supported by the decision-makers
at the top. After all, the organizations were top-down management, how
could it be otherwise. I fueled the concept of what one author called the
patriarchal contract and the bureaucratic cycle:

* submission to authority
* denial of self-expression
* sacrifice for unnamed future rewards
* belief that the above are just

This Francisco Franco or Vince Lombardi mind-set dominates our
culture and our organizations despite mounting evidence that high-
control, autocratic, top-down systems are often less effective and
less productive than their more democratic participative system

The alternative proposed by numerous listings of bottom-up, guerilla,
brush-fire tactics represents an initial step towards autonomy; the
decision to act on our own. The alternative is dependency; the wish not
to be responsible and held accountable for our actions or our directions.
"Autonomy is the choice for guilt" (Block, 1987). The dependent nature of
man is to take a predictable path and to choose maintenance instead of
enlightened self-interest. We look for "leadership" thereby implying that
we are willing to "follow" others' interests.

To choose autonomy and create enlightened self-interest and personal
vision is to choose the path most risky. There is a twin-headed evil
which exists in many organizations, departments, individuals, etc. it
goes by the names of arrogance and complacency. It is indicative of the
want to choose protection and to opt to maintain what we already have; it
is a willingness to stand upon our laurels.

Whether we like it or not, or believe it or not, leadership is solely up
to the individual. It is the choice to pioneer and live on the frontier,
to avoid insulation and to choose the cold knowing that we may fail and be
disappointed, or to settle in the comfort of sameness. The safe path in
any organization is to avoid the frontier and to ask others to chart the
new territories for us. It becomes a matter of personal vulnerability and
willingness to be risk-takers.

Power is a function of both position in the hierarchy and a state of mind.
There is not question in my mind that if the top executives suport an
initiative that the efforts are easier--in this respect my views really
haven't changed. I have observed, however, that the perception of
position and power is highly overrated. People at the top are frequently
as powerless as people at the bottom or middle. "Change from the top down
happens at the will and whim of those below" (Block, 1987). Many of the
critical choices are made by the individuals at the lower levels. The
power of the "boss" is asymmetrical. It is easier to pursuade individuals
to become more cautious and "settle" than it is to make individuals and
organizations more "pioneering" and courageous.

My soap box is growing taller, and that was not my intent. I recommend to
all of those who feel disempowered at the mid-level management or lower
rung of the corporate ladder to conser reading "The Empowered Manager" by
Peter Block. It's an oldie but a goodie.


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      |    Peter L. Heineman, Manager of Contract Training      |
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