Managing change from top to bottom


MOST management books are messianic. "Do as described here," goes the message, "and you will succeed beyond your wildest dreams." The approach adopted by George Binney and Colin Williams, though, is about as far removed from this as it is possible to get.

Instead this pair of polymaths, based at Ashridge Management College in Hertfordshire, nod in the direction of the "May we spare a few moments of your time to put our point of view?" school.

There are no rigid prescriptions, although they do make extensive use of earlier work looking at management in the new-style National Health Service, but their book is probably no less persuasive for that.

The basic idea behind Leaning into the Future is that "change programmes" are not working because those responsible for them either concentrate too much on driving them from the top down or set too much store by the liberal-sounding bottom-up approach. The authors' belief is that neither is right, with the result that there needs to be greater emphasis on combining the two.

It sounds like a classic British compromise. But if one considers that many people involved with management are taking the view that there is no longer any one answer to a particular problem, it makes more than a little sense.

This hybrid is the Leaning into the Future of the title. It is a combination of the leading that is central to the top-down approach and the learning that is involved in the bottom-up route. "Successful leaders in change combine leading and learning: they lead in such a way that teaming is encouraged; they learn in a way that informs and guides those who seek to lead," write Binney and Williams.

So much for the basic tenet; it is difficult to tell if it has any more validity than the single-minded approaches its proponents seek to have it replace.

Where the authors will score with the more cynical is in jousting with some of today's received wisdom.

Such as why it is that every generation believes it is coping with unprecedented levels of change; such as the notion of "managing change" that this belief has spawned, and which has itself given rise to a sub-profession of "change managers". But this willingness to challenge a few principles is not the only point of departure for Binney and Williams. In this context, it is tempting to see the length of the book (a mere 175 pages, including the index) as a deliberate counterbalance to the much weightier tomes that float in increasing numbers across the Atlantic.

And let us not forget the tone. When was the last time a management book's conclusion contained such sentiments as the following: "We have no wish to foist our ideas on others, nor to pretend that they are THE answer to change."

Or, "We offer Leaning into the Future not as a unique solution but as one way of understanding change in organisations. It is a perspective that makes sense of our experience and guides the way we go about our work. We hope it helps you too."

q 'Leaning into the Future' is published by Nicholas Brealey at pounds 16.99.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Digital Optimisation Executive - Marketing

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's fastest growing, multi...

Recruitment Genius: Financial Reporting Manager

£70000 - £90000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Financial Reporting Manager i...

Recruitment Genius: Payments Operations Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They win lots of awards for the...

Recruitment Genius: Telephone Debt Negotiator

£13500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This nationwide enforcement com...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific