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Bottom up culture change in organisations is really how things work.

I've seen untold investment in top down culture change. Leadership and documentation is a fabulous place to get motivated and enthusiastic about change. But if you want the fastest, most sustainable culture change, start bottom up.

A Case Study

The top down approach was used at "......." by a top 4 Consulting firm in creating change for a 10,000 employee firm in the construction industry. Their fortunes had been in decline due to imported products, declining productivity and parochial management systems that were antiquated at best. Significant investment was made in the development of new strategy and costing structures before the culture change project began. Six months later, culture change was incomplete and strategy already needed to be modified and superseded. My job was to help implement change. I was asked to run a series of culture change programmes to feed a top down programme in training and new skill development. After a one day audit of the existing culture I reported that senior management were skeptical, there was a negativity toward change and far too much anchoring for a top down programme. I proposed a bottom up process.

Bottom Up Culture Change Process

Skepticism, resistance, over training, too much talk, fear, uncertainty: all come together to switch off the human evolution process that people will happily engage with under the right circumstances. Not every structure can do this natural flow but in the case of my brief, the client in resistance to strategy implementation, this Bottom Up program was so easy and fast, we had the culture spinning in a new direction in less than 8 weeks.

Here are the foundation principles of a Bottom Up Culture Change approach:

  • Most employee motivation programs fail due to corporate self-interest
  • Lasting change can only be achieved when employees are personally inspired
  • Magic happens when personal inspiration aligns with the company vision

What we did:

Step 1 - Inspire the individual

Step 2 - Balance the corporate vision

Step 3 - Align personal inspiration to the vision

The Process:

1. Our first step was to train 100 people in the skills of personal inspiration. We did this in 3 groups in two day sessions. These volunteers became our team leaders in culture change. They were not chosen based on the company hierarchy but more on their ability to coach, speak and motivate others... trust was the key.

2. Those 100 ran a series of small 4 hour workshops using our step by step manual. I was always on tap to help if things got stuck but in the whole run out, I was not called on during a workshop. Each team leader debriefed by phone after their presentation.

3. We invested significant energy in "internal marketing" - promoting the balanced view of new visions, holistic, socially conscious, profitable, secure and proud of the brand. We sold the new and old company to those who might have been disgruntled, confused or negative about the changes. We spent significant resources promoting the business to the business. The new company vision was heart felt, not personalised to the CEO but spoken as a we all, not an "I" - engagement was measured at around 80% which is extremely good. The WIFM question started to become clear.

4. Now we overlapped existing structural leadership with team leaders for debriefing. Structural leaders were encouraged to listen, make notes, create change and really take up the recommendations of team leaders. Soon, "senior management" had a new mandate. And ours to them was, "don't stuff it up."


After months and months of top down culture change struggle with 360 degree feedback programs designed to force feed culture top down, the Bottom Up approach demonstrated that:

  1. Most employee motivation programs fail due to corporate self-interest (Top Down and 360 Degree Feedback)
  2. Lasting change can only be achieved when employees are personally inspired (Absolute Given)
  3. Magic happens when personal inspiration aligns with the company vision. (Internal Marketing- Listening)

The Strategy for change went ahead smoothly -

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