Can you change your company from the bottom up?

For many companies, to be digitally effective means fundamental changes to the business. The question is whether this is possible without the buy-in of management?

The challenge I faced writing Digital Adaptation was that the majority of people reading the book would be members of web teams or even outside web designers. This was a problem because the topics being tackled related to bringing about fundamental business change. Changes that were normally instigated by senior management.

This raised an interesting question: could digital adaptation (making a company relevant and effective in the digital economy) be achieved without instigation by senior management?

As with all things the answer is dependant on many factors. It depends on:

  • The leadership style of senior management. If the management team is naturally resistant to change or takes a very authoritarian approach to leadership, then grass roots change will be hard.
  • The confidence of the in-house web team. If the web team has been institutionalised then they may well believe change is impossible and so never attempt to improve things. This is a common scenario, especially in large public sector institutions.
  • The reputation of the in-house web team. Many web teams have quite a poor reputation within their organisations, being seen as either too junior to instigate company wide change or too out of touch with company objectives to make positive contributions. In such cases it can be hard to get peers and management to take suggestions for change seriously.
  • The health of the company. If a company is ticking along relatively well, then encouraging change can be hard. Established companies are rarely motivated by new opportunities, instead preferring to stick to what they know. However, if a threat is perceived, they are much more willing to adapt and embrace new ideas.
  • The competition. Many organisations are highly influenced by the competition. If they are making changes or innovating in digital, it will make it considerably easier to instigate grass roots change at your own organisation.
  • The degree of change required. People do not like change so the bigger the change, the more resistance will be met. This can prove problematic when trying to integrate grass roots changes.

All of these issues can be overcome, but the more challenges being faced the more reliant an organisation is on the change being driven through by senior management.

As I struggled with the idea of transforming a business from the bottom up, I concluded that it is not possible if the senior management team are determined to resist you. However, the change can be instigated by anybody, not necessarily just by management.

A committed web team, that works hard to get consensus from across the organisation, can influence senior management and guide them towards the steps they must take.

At least that is my opinion. The question is whether you believe that would be possible in the companies with which you work. Just how much can be achieved by employees determined to make a difference? Can employees really help educate and redirect management towards establishing a more digitally friendly company?

This is a crucial question because most senior management teams do not recognise the need for change. They do not grasp that the rules that served their company for years no longer apply. If we cannot influence change then these companies are doomed to fail.

I need your experiences

These are questions I want to look at in more depth on the podcast, but to do that I want to hear about your experiences of influencing change. What successes or failures have you had and what role do you see for grass roots change when compared to the role of management. I would really appreciate your thoughts in the comments below.

“Fresh Green Grass With Root And Dew” image courtesy of

  • Greig

    What a load of rubbish, your clearly do not understand higher education. You sound very arrogant.

  • Lois

    Great food for thought. Thanks for this.

    BTW, looks like you have the “core digital team” slide twice. :-)

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  • Thomas Minnefor

    Great review of the digital organizational hurdles in higher-ed. As internal web teams become more conversant in analytics, the dialog with management should improve. Internal web teams would benefit by making design recommendations supported by analytics that reflect an understanding of the marketing context of a site. The vocabulary of analytics can also be a hurdle, but if management can be shown how simple, tangible, design changes can be measured, the use of analytics should gradually become part of management culture, which in turn will help drive organizational change.

  • TheTransformation

    Perhaps Digital is the wrong word?

    What would “Digital Transformation”‘ be called in the year 3017? I prefer the term “Consumer Transformation”.

    the humans, the people, have been transformed over centuries into vulgar consumers, addicted to our particular technological needs (from Ford to Facebook). Nothing new here, simply the “Consumer Transformation” is now accelerating exponentially.

    • You are almost certainly right BUT that is not how senior management think of it. They realise that digital has changed thing. They can wrap their head around that. Customer experience is just not a thing they care as much about. They are too inward looking for that. I find talking about digital transformation is a way of introducing the idea that customer expectations have changed.