Ideas from the middle- the positive side of middle of the organization change

One thing that has always impressed me about start up companies is how close the tie is for energy/decisions/effort/energy. Everyone is focused on the same goal, working with their hands on a specific skill, smiling and laughing into the middle of the night. What is up with that?

In those situations there is nothing in between strategy and work. No politics, no bureaucracy, no performance reviews, little status quo and clear (and usually fairly close) end states. Easy change management.

If you could have that with security I think most employees would be willing participants.

I know that because I see what happens when, in the middle of the organization, someone comes up with a good idea, tells someone about it, they fill a white board over lunch and they are off and running- even in, and maybe especially in, the Fortune 50 (in fact I can vouch for one in the Fortune 5). When a company gets big enough it becomes hard to know exactly what everyone is doing. Low Fortune numbers mean lots of mini initiatives that sometimes do not even connect to others and/or strategy and yet by virtue of size look a lot like the big stuff.

And so we have the ingredients for middle of the organization change: low visibility, specific needs, shared end states not necessarily in need of much description and willing hands.

A smart executive lets some of this run. Even smarter is to see how these efforts might tie in to strategy and utilize grass roots energy. It is a chance to help employees be empowered. It might free up time for the executive to work harder on strategy that Or to more fully develop communication that illustrates the connection between strategy and work.

Grass roots change can decrease the distance between executive and stakeholder by effectively eliminating the stall of decision making and the translation to work. Organic activity around change can even produce pods of innovation to feed long term strategic decision making.

That is unless the grass roots change gets to the point where it can no longer feed itself. When it becomes visible. When it requires more money. When it goes against current strategy (which might happen fast since good ideas usually do). When it conflicts with a leaders personal agenda and career path. When it pushes internal political buttons. Almost the second it crosses functions- in fact cross functions and you will get all of the above.

So you hear things like “scale up”, meaning to try to gain MORE visibility higher in the organization. You get change models and methods that talk about recruiting an “executive sponsor” ( I still think this is the strangest thing- how can you possibly be “managing change” without any connection to the owner?). And you get CM consultants on the prowl for “champions”.

The positive- energy, teamwork, quickness to work, collaboration and development.

The not so positive- change requires ownership from the person with the money, it is hard to contain change in a silo, it is hard to keep change in a neat (and invisible) box, the middle of the organization only has a certain level of leverage and power.

By all means encourage- in a way that works for you as an executive and the culture of your organization- grass roots activity. For the executive know that your role is to tie that into the bigger picture (not try to manage and control it- do that and it goes away or moves to a different hidden corner). If you are a stakeholder in the middle of the organization pushing a grass roots idea know, that you have little wiggle room before you run into needs. Those needs will likely scale up, or over- which can be just as difficult. Keep that in mind early and do not be afraid to make the right kind of connection to leadership- with the owner.

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