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HR Best Practices
HR Best Practices

Driving change from the bottom up

Through our daily work with over 1300 organisations, we see many examples of innovative thinking in HR. In this series of 14 best practices we define true "best practices" in HR nowadays. In this fourth case study of this series we will focus on driving change from the bottom up with several examples of Top Employers which all focus on the bottom up approach.

Bringing a diverse range of ideas and perspectives into the journey of change at all levels of the organisation increases the likelihood of achieving the desired outcomes.

Driving change from the bottom up in the Retail Industry

This Top Employer (Europe, 4500 employees) is looking to act on feedback from employees saying that its organisational culture is too bureaucratic and slow to resolve issues and to adapt to new changes. In a ‘bottom up’ change management approach, this organisation has decided to ask for ‘change agents’ to help tackle the root causes and provide insight into the actions needed for improvement.

These volunteers are currently being trained by external consultants so that they can properly think through the solutions needed for their organisation – not only taking into account their personal perspectives, but challenging managers and teams in the organisation to improve processes, deliver simpler ways of working and make the execution of decisions more efficient.

HR and senior leaders sponsor the initiative and executives have been asked to be open-minded to all the change agents’ ideas and propositions. Trust will be an important success factor to ensure the allocated change agents feel free to share courageous, honest proposals. The activity has recently been launched and we will monitor its progress and development.

Driving change from the bottom up in the Manufacturing Industry

This Top Employer (North America, 2000 employees) is currently setting up an employee ‘culture change network’ comprising of 5% of employees across the U.S. who will spend 20% of their working week driving change from the bottom-up. This change looks to provide a faster response rate to changes in the market, to improve entrepreneurial spirit and to help the company become more people-oriented.

This initiative is sponsored by the executive committee, meaning that this translates into leadership commitment. More so, the team are in direct contact with the company’s CEO regarding these objectives and the development and realisation of their activities, which creates a bottom-up link and helps the company listen to the voice of its people. Members of the network have been given adjusted performance objectives to formalise their participation in the programme, which means this work will become a fundamental part of their roles, rather than an add-on which they perform in their spare time.

Driving change from the bottom up in the Pharma Industry

Every year, the country organisation of this global pharmaceutical company (Africa, 200 employees) hosts a two-day workshop with local managers and a group of ‘change advocates,’ who are nominated by employees to improve the internal work environment and culture. The group identifies issues via a short pulse survey which focuses on how to improve trust, innovation and focuses on high efficiency/less bureaucratic behaviour. The group then proposes a list of ideas and action plans, which are decided upon by the local leadership team.

Though the workshop requires significant time investment, the ROI appears to be high. The results so far have showed an improved engagement survey score around the ‘level of participation’ employees have within the company. Employees appreciate the fact that management is listening to what they have to say.

Driving change from the bottom up in the Business Services Industry

As an employee engagement initiative, this Top Employer (United Kingdom, 200 employees) has introduced an online platform where staff can share business improvement ideas, such a digital version of the traditional ‘suggestion box’. The employer has also set up a formal process to act upon promising ideas. A member of the HR team takes ownership of developing each idea and possibly finding someone to ‘own’ that idea. This means that colleagues know that sharing their ideas or suggestions are worthwhile, and they have an open opportunity to make their voice heard.

The introduction of the tool has resulted in an increase in engagement levels, owing to the fact that the employees now know that their ideas or suggestions will not go ignored.

This is a practice that can be carried either by HR or by the Internal Communications team. Having these suggestions publicly visible to the organisation means that people are encouraged to share worthwhile ideas and the volume of ideas are manageable. 

Driving change from the bottom up in the Telecoms Industry

Based on external benchmarking and results from its own engagement survey, this Top Employer (Eastern Europe, 3000 employees) realised it could do more to empower employees to improve their own work environment. Two years ago, it set up a network of employees who volunteered to analyse the survey results and explore the ideas provided by the other employees, which were then shared in an internal social media community group.

Facilitated by HR and business analysts, the employee network meets weekly for a six-month period each year to provide action plans in response to relevant employee results. There are several tasks for them to do: to analyse all results across the company, to take into consideration the ideas shared by the rest of the employees and identify the right action plans (some of the employees also take part of the implementation of these action plans. Throughout this process, HR provides support and guidance, and senior leaders get involved in building the action plans per department. Since setting up this structure, many of the actions designed by the network have been successfully implemented.

A positive side effect of the programme is that it contributes to the employee’s experience and gives them an active voice in shaping their well-being and quality of life at the workplace. The limitation of this practice seems to be its focus on what is going wrong rather than what is going right. Therefore, the Communication or HR departments need to able to demonstrate the success of the initiatives coming out of these discussions to avoid feelings of never-ending work. 

Our Conclusion

Giving people an opportunity to make their voice heard and co-drive change, rather than having it purely driven from the top down, can have an impact on people engagement. It means people can confidentially take ownership of change instead of being a prisoner of it. Managing expectations in this arena is vital. In reality, all change processes take time. Not all decisions (especially important ones like reorganisations) can be decentralised. As much as companies want to drive change from the bottom up, having the focus of high-level leadership commitment (top down management) remains a vital ingredient.

Top-down seems to be the fastest route as here, decisions can be made quickly with minimal involvement from the shop floor, but it still takes time to explain the decisions that these leaders have taken. They must then manage expectations from employees to convince them to accept the change. In this way, by adopting a bottom-up approach, employees can feel part of the change from the beginning!

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Curious about the previous topic we've discussed in this series of case studies? Gain more insights on Career Management Tooling