Inarticulate ramblings of a management consultant

the day to day experiences of a consultant operating in weird and wonderful client situations

Implementing a ‘bottom up’ strategy – part 3

Apologies for the delayed posting…I was at our place in Scotland on holiday and bizarrely, the golf course had more attraction than sitting behind a laptop, trying to find something meaningful to say around this particular challenge!

So, for those of you who did not pick up on my previous posts, in the first one of this series, I discussed the typical approach of strategy implementation from a ‘top down’ perspective…with perhaps a slightly sharper interpretation of the results of this approach than normal. In part 2, I looked at situations which I’ve been exposed to, where a ‘bottom up’ approach was used.

In this one, I want to look at some of the key characteristics around successful implementation in a ‘bottom up’ approach.

To my mind, there are a number of critical dimensions which are often present in this situation:

  • Autonomy, mastery and purpose. This will be familiar to many of you…it comes from Daniel Pink’s excellent description of achieving employee engagement and also corresponds with Emmanuel Gobillot’s concept of discretionary time. Fundamentally, the environment you need to create amongst your employee base is one where they feel some autonomy (particularly around the how dimension), they see that achieving the collective vision will also add to their own personal franchise and worth (by adding to their mastery of an activity), and lastly there is a purpose to the process which extends beyond the quarterly / annual target! ‘Doubling in size in 2 years’ is not a purpose…neither does it need to be ‘changing the paradigm of how your products / services are perceived / purchased’…or indeed ‘changing the industry’. What it needs to be is genuine, easily and consistently described, and ‘of your organisation’.
  • Agile and ruthless. Strategy implementation does not follow a smooth path…it is a series of processes and initiatives, many of whom fail. A ‘bottom up’ approach to be responsive and quick to change and most importantly, it needs to be ruthless in cutting initiatives which patently aren’t working. By the way, identifying the latter is remarkably simple…just as identifying disengaged employees is simple! If they don’t turn up, don’t contribute and don’t deliver what was agreed, you know that you’re pushing water up hill! The speed of the response creates the dynamism and momentum internally.
  • Visible. What you’re implementing needs to have a physical component…something about the organisation needs to physically change as you move through implementation. Creating and implementing a change in direction becomes much easier when you can see it happening, creating interest, intrigue and a sense of completion / fulfilment for those around you.
  • Leadership behaviour change. One of the most interesting projects I worked on in terms of strategy implementation involved senior management changing the ‘filter’ of management information, in this case, focusing exclusively on customer experience information. The impact of leadership physically using this data as part of their everyday analysis and review with their reports was extraordinary and it generated significant momentum.

Is this very different from good ‘top down’ implementation? What do you think?

Categories: Agile, Change management, Consulting, Disruptive Innovation, Economics, Functional Leadership, human behaviour, Language, Management Information, psychology, Strategy, Transformation

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2 replies

  1. Ben – is this really “bottom-up” or just enabling – which is ultimately an activity driven from the top in any case. Either way it requires a change of culture, which has to come from the senior management. My nascent model of leadership revolves around “risk and permission”, the leader’s task is hugely advanced if he can create an environment of permission where people feel safe to take decisions and innovate; at the same time the leader must evaluate people’s ability to accomplish those tasks and the consequences of them failing to achieve them – that is the risk element. Tasks that are too risky to devolve you do not give permission for, everything else should be delegated to the lowest level of achievable competence.

    Essentially we adopted this approach on the golf course last week – we gave ourselves permission to whack balls into the deep rough on the last two holes, as the risk of lost balls was acceptable…. but interestingly on the preceding holes, it would have been irritating to lose the balls so we did not permit ourselves to play so, er, extravagantly.


  2. An interesting perspective…I like your risk and permission model and your golfing analogy. In a way however, in a bottom up implementation, the same model applies to leadership…which is that he / she is given permission to lead by the team and that a similar risk assessment is carried out as to his / her capability. Perhaps the challenge for us all is that we think about leadership in a hierarchical sense rather in a functional / capability way. For new businesses, leadership is often an assigned task rather than anything else based on skills rather than seniority and perhaps this is where the conflict / lack of engagement starts to arise for new employees, for whom the past is irrelevant as a qualification for a leader – what they are judging is current competence and capability.


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