Four core change models:

Most change experts push the same advice: “drive change from the top down.” But different situations call for different approaches. Knowing your options makes you more flexible, consistent and successful as a change leader.

To a hammer, every problem looks like a nail (Abraham Maslow). Not every problem is a nail, of course, and you are under no obligation to only be a hammer.

If you are willing to let go of the ubiquitous top down model, you will find powerful and varied resources at your disposal and be able to expand your range and flexibility as a change agent and leader.

Here are four powerful approaches to change that Advanture helps clients navigate and leverage:


  1. Top Down: Mandated and driven from above
  2. Bottom Up: Engaging employees early with “joint diagnosis” of the challenge
  3. First Steps: Generating early wins to build momentum; building on results
  4. Systems Approach: Embedding change in culture with HRM and OD systems

In future blogs I will offer an executive summary of each of these approaches. Let me just note here that each approach has its advantages and disadvantages, its ideal applications and its unique process. The approaches can be mixed and matched to suit unique challenges. And large, complex initiatives often require a combination of different approaches.

Two powerful supplemental practices:

In addition to the four core change models, there are two crucial complimentary practices. I call them practices because they are larger and more complex than mere tactics and have applications in leadership beyond change management. They are also deep and powerful enough that in certain situations they can be used as primary change approaches, i.e., as the structure or scaffold of a change management project.


Facilitative (Values-Based) Leadership: 

  • Intense commitment to bridging stakeholder needs; facilitating stakeholder dialogue; inclusion & integrity to earn trust & respect
  • People need to trust leaders before following them down a new path
  • Earn trust by being a stakeholder champion and engaging stakeholders
  • Engage others whenever possible to enhance buy-in, build relationships, and leverage expertise (see here and here)

Managing Transitions:

  • Helping people prepare for, deal with, and make the most of change
  • People will resist embracing the new future until they have let go of the past

Three world class sources on facilitative / values-based / transformational leadership are Ronald Heifetz, Leadership without Easy Answers (Belknap Press, Harvard, 1994), James O’Toole, Leading Change (Ballantine, 1996), and Peter Block, Community (Berrett-Koehler, 2009). Together, these three books form a powerful whole—a true master leadership practice. I will offer an executive summary of this leadership practice in the future, but for now let me offer this brief description. These books promote (i) a facilitative approach to change and leadership, (ii) bridging stakeholder needs, not at the lowest common denominator, but at the point of their highest mutual aspirations; and (iii) sharing leadership responsibility in a way that builds teams of leaders and leaders of teams.

The best source by far that I have ever found on the people side of change is William Bridges, Managing Transitions (Perseus, 1991). This is a great book: smart, deep and practical. And the techniques really work: I have been using and teaching them since I first read the book in 1996. I am still grateful to Susan Hutton for recommending it to me.

Happy to help you explore these approaches.


Advanture helps organizations align culture with strategy, bring core values to life, and improve leadership practices for enhanced business performance. Performance by design!

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Joel Shapiro, Ph.D.
Advanture Consulting
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