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Why Using the Top-Down Model of Organisational Development is Plausible as Compared to the Bottom-Up Model

  • Category:
    Management
  • Document type:
    Essay
  • Level:
    Undergraduate
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Why Using the Top-Down Model of Organisational Development is Plausible as Compared to the Bottom-Up Model

Introduction

Oswick (2013, p. 376) argues that there is need for organisations to adopt the bottom-up approach to organisational development. The same author argues that some as a result of societal changes on one hand and changes in the manner in which individuals work on the other, organisations should consider replacing the traditional top-down model of organisational change with the bottom-up approach which is characterised by a meaningful involvement of employees in planned change initiatives. This essay is based on an analysis of this proposition. The analysis is based on evaluating whether or not the bottom-up approach to organisational change is the most appropriate model for organisations. In the essay, it is argued that the traditional approach to organisational change, which uses the top-down model, is plausible. Using the case of the transformation of General Electric (GE) under the leadership of Jack Welch, it is argued that the top-down model has not only proven to be effective, but can also be used to incorporate employee engagement in the change process.

The first reason as to why it is argued that the top-down model of organisational change is plausible and should still be used instead of the suggested bottom-up approach is related to how the top-down model can be effectively used to achieve specific results within organisations. In general, using the top-down approach to manage organisational development has been tried and tested over the course of time and it has been found to be an effective approach (Garden, 2016, p. 6). Theoretically, the top-down approach to organisational development is based on the precepts of managerial conceptualisation of a change process, managerial control of the process and inclusion of the other employees of the organisation as the recipients of the change process (Oswick, 2013, p. 375). Therefore, under the top-down model of organisational change, managers are required to develop the approach that will be used to manage the change and remain in control as the entire organisation undergoes a transformation. According to Beckhard (1969, cited in Garrow, 2009, p. 4), organisational development is an initiative to transform the performance of an organisation which is conceived and controlled at the top of the organisation. Hence, it can be seen that the traditional view of organisational development is based on the need for the senior management team of an organisation to transform the performance of the organisation by conceiving specific change initiatives and carefully managing the process of implementing the change.

This top-down approach to organisational change has been effectively used to transform organisations in recent history. One case in which the top-down model of organisational development has been used to transform an organisation is of GE under the leadership of Jack Welch. Welch was the CEO of GE between 1981 and 2001 (Abetti, 2006, p. 75). During this period, he transformed the company by initiating change processes that were geared at eliminating the bureaucratic practices that were prevalent within the company, increasing the internal efficiency of the company and returning the company to outstanding performance in terms of profitability (Bucifal, 2009, p. 3).

What should be noted from this example is that Jack Welch used the top-down approach to effectively transform the internal operations, organisational culture and market performance of GE. The ideas for change were conceived and managed by the senior management team of the organisation under the leadership of the CEO (Bucifal, 2009, p. 4). Furthermore, the success of the change process is largely attributed to the leadership style of Jack Welch, which was characterised by placing a high level of responsibility on the senior managers and ensuring that the change process was carefully planned and executed (Abetti, 2006, p. 77). Therefore, it can be argued that the traditional approach to organisational development as described in the top-down model has been proven to be quite effective in helping organisations undergo transformative change.

The second reason is related to the issues that the argument for bottom-up management is built on and the premise that the bottom-up approach is a better alternative to the top-down approach because of these issues. It has been argued that the attractiveness of a bottom-up approach to organisational change lies in the manner in which the employees are engaged in the process of meaningful organisational change and how this benefits the entire organisation (Oswick, 2013, p. 376). In the same vein, Moon (2008, n.pag) argues that the manner in which the bottom-up organisational development approach seeks to engage employees makes it suitable for organisations since the employees tend to conceptualise and own the entire change process.

It is important to note that using the top-down approach when managing organisational change does not mean that the employees of the organisation are not included in developing and even managing the change process. Inasmuch as top-down organisational development emphasises the need for the management team to organise and manage the change process, it does not exclude employees from the change process. On the contrary, the fact that the top-down model lays emphasis on the need for the change process to be managed and implemented throughout an organisation means that all the employees will have to play important roles in the course of implementing the change.

In fact, active and meaningful employee engagement can be achieved within the context of top-down organisational development. In the case of GE, the top-down change initiative was managed in such a manner that all the employees played a key role in implementing the change process (Bucifal, 2009, p. 6). Similarly, Abetti (2006, p. 78) notes that the leadership style of Jack Welch placed much responsibility on the senior managers of the organisation to take responsibility of specific change aspects within their domains. This approach led to a situation in which the senior managers also sought the opinion of their staff and, by doing so, ensured that all employees within the organisation played an important role in the change process.

Therefore, it can be seen that contrary to the opinion that top-down organisational change leads to a situation in which employees are passive participants in the change process, in reality, top-down organisational development can be carried out in such a manner that meaningful engagement of employees in issues that are beneficial to their organisation can be achieved. As such, all the basic benefits associated with bottom-down organisational development can be achieved under the top-down approach to organisational development.

Conclusion

There are two main reasons as to why using a top-down approach to organisational development may be better than using a bottom-up approach. Essentially, the bottom-up approach is new and its case is based on the observation that the society and the work environment are changing very fast and that it is necessary for organisations to change the approach that they use to manage change. However, it can be seen that the top-down approach to managing organisational change remains very effective. A case in point is how Jack Welch managed to transform the culture, operations and performance of GE during the period when he was the CEO of the company. Using the top-down approach to organisational change, he managed to effectively transform the company. The second reason is that all the important aspects of employee engagement and participation in the change process can be effectively incorporated in a top-down organisational development programme. Therefore, since the key objective of organisational change is to improve the status of the organisation by including all its stakeholders and this objective can be achieved using the top-down model, it can be concluded that the top-down model remains useful.

References

Abetti, P. A. (2006). Case study: Jack Welch’s creative revolutionary transformation of General Electric and the Thermidorean Reaction (1981-2004). Creativity and Innovation Management, 15(1): 74-84.

Bucifal, S. (2009). Corporate strategy analysis: General Electric Co. (1981-present). Retrieved from https://www.uni-erfurt.de/fileadmin/public-docs/Mikrooekonomie/Vorlesungsmaterialien/Management/Strategy%20GE.pdf

Garden, A. (2016). The roles of organisational development. London: Routledge.

Garrow, V. (2009). OD: Past, present and future. Retrieved from http://www.machon-adler.co.il/readers/reader1.pdf

Moon, M. (2008). Bottom-up instigated organisation change through constructionist conversation. Journal of Knowledge Management Practice, 9(4). Retrieved from http://www.tlainc.com/articl169.htm

Oswick, C. (2013). Reflections: OD or not OD that is the question! A constructivist’s thoughts on the changing nature of change. Journal of Change Management. 13(4), 371-381.