You are the conducting change in your organization. At your own level. Bit by bit. Every day. Making incremental progress, improving what is already working. Saving time in repetitive tasks, deleted unnecessary approvals, negotiating additional savings with your subcontractors.
Or perhaps you’re starting in a new organization. You quickly assess what works, what doesn’t. You realize that massive change needs to take place. The numbers are clear. This department needs to merge with that one. Or needs to be split into two entities. That person needs to change role. That list of poisonous clients/suppliers need to go.
In both case, change will happen. One from bottom to top. The other from top to bottom.
Now the question is, what you are supposedly changing, is that for the better, or for the worse? Are you actually making things better?
It is like chess. You are making a move that make sense on the paper. But it creates an imbalance in the organization, before it creates a new balance. A new status quo, a new way of doing things is created.
Did you make the organization more resilient, or more vulnerable?
Let’s take the example of John. John is maybe not the most skilled at a certain position. But he is reliable, accountable. And he is doing the job steadily, properly, with a good balance and decent result.
Then you realize there is potential to develop the business by spliting the role into two positions. On the paper, John can be decidated to one side of the problem, dig much deeper, achieve better results. And Jack can take on the other side of the job, and expand it to increase the performance. John did not actually like that part of the job so much. Every one is happy.
But then, one day, John or Jack drops the ball, for any possible reason (sick, absent, does not like the role any more). And your system gets out of balance.
What you thought was better on the first round, is not as reliable, resilient, long lasting. And you can’t go back. It’s irreversible.
Let’s take the example of a more abrupt change. You realize that a division is not achieving the performance it could, and creates many problems. It could be your technical service department.
You decide to shut it down. It was your 80/20 of problems. Your morning headache. And now you’re happy. Your problems are gone.
But then you realize that all your customers that were buying in your most profitable division were buying because your technical service division was world class. And your customers are gone. And you lost the competence of the department you shut down. And depending on the solidity of your company, it may actually soon be gone.
The moral of the story is that when we believe the change we are trying to make is for the better, it might actually make things worse.
The difficulty is that you don’t know you don’t know. Your blind spot. And only experience will help. But you can make it systematic to ask yourself the right questions :
- What is the worst that can happen because of the change I’m trying to make?
- Is the change I’m making irreversible, or I can put things back as they were if it doesn’t work out?
- Am I actually carrying out change because I like new things, or because it will make things better?
- Am I removing the problem or moving it to another location?
And that’s the difficulty of top-down change. The bolder it is, the more risk can arise.
So will you settle for bottom-up change (lean), or dare to make bolder change despite the risks?