Guest Post: Top Down, Bottom Up | HR Fishbowl

For two and a half years now, I’ve been ranting and raving about needing to balance the Human Resources dialog and debate (echo chamber) that rages through the social-media-sphere with a voice that is more pragmatic – a voice that is based in the real practice of HR in a corporate or industrial environment (Trench HR). Yes, I know I just pissed off a number of my vendor and consulting cohorts; but those same cohorts realized long ago that I could care less. Anyway, imma try to amplify more of that voice right here, right now. 

Anne McCarthy (@AEM255) is a Regional HR Director with one of the UK’s largest employers. She’s currently working on pulling together a series of learning and development products to support a change program that will touch the lives of over 100,000 people (my head hurts). In doing so she’s putting those people and their voice at the heart of the change and bumping into all sorts of interesting challenges along the way. She has a pretty cool message for us today. Follow her, get to know her, hear her voice…

A Programme Director remarked to me the other day “You don’t change organisations from the bottom up.” This – you understand – sums up how hard I have to work with some of my stakeholders! My answer was “Neither do you exclusively change them from the top down.”

Let’s just for one moment indulge in the prospect that it was as easy as changing the organisation from the top down. The CEO could issue her vision and values, share her objectives and that would be it. Job done. We would all obediently line up behind the CEO and get on with it. Not that easy though is it?

Of course it is essential that the top team have a vision and as a team are aligned. That needs a lot of work in it’s own right but change doesn’t happen until the whole organisation feels bought in and engaged. This means the vision needs to be directional but not too prescriptive. It needs to be the tram lines within which people at the bottom of the organisation can make sense of the vision, what it means to them and get involved in shaping their part of the change.

In my experience it turns out that the people facing the customer really know the most about how their jobs can be improved. If you engage them in the right way they can tell you were the waste is or how we can do things to delight our customers more. If only someone would ask them.

Our former Chairman would clear his diary every Friday to go back to the shop floor and listen to the workers. It would of course frequently drive the senior managers crazy as he agreed to many of the frontline requests just by applying common sense. He was making a big point, though, and he was right to do so. Listen to the people who do the job more carefully rather than assuming you know better and you will learn a lot about how to change an organisation; and guess what…you will get buy in to the change too!

~ Anne McCarthy

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