Traditional organisational change is a top-down process. Change at a societal level is now emerging from the grass-roots  for example flash mobs, the umbrella revolution or slow food. Could flash mobs be the next wave of organisational change?

Organisational change is traditionally a top down process, something that an organisation and its leaders do. It comes from an assumption that the organisation’s leaders know the right way to do change, so they plan and execute it.

My light bulb moment from the Henley Forum I attended last week was from Professor Cliff Oswick’s talk on emergent organisational change. Change happening at the grassroots of the organisation, by employees for employees.

Traditional organisational change models involve employees in the change process, participating in contributing ideas and shaping new systems, processes and tools.

However, the change is still lead from the top, and employees are “allowed” to contribute at certain points along the change process.

My A-Ha moment was when Cliff spoke about how societal change is coming from grassroots social movements rather than our traditional political organisations. Examples like the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong, or Slow Food or a flash mob at a university in India for women’s equality come to mind. With the internet it is easy to start a change that is much bigger than yourself and mobilise significant change, even globally.

Emergent organisational change is like a flash mob in a company.

Change is driven by employees, for employees. The employees coming together to change because of a shared purpose, not a formal vision and mission. They are motivated to change the organisation for what they believe in. It’s driven from the grassroots not the top.

Here’s an example from a company where I have been consulting. All the staff in the office were all invited to a lunch and learn about sustainability. The session was organised by an employee, Amanda, who was interested in sustainability. She’d been inspired by the documentary Before the Flood and wanted to create a more sustainability company. The event was not organised by the sustainability department though she’d invited the them along.

After an inspiring speech from her heart, the people who attended the lunch decided how they could mobilise themselves around topics from recycling to saving power.

Social networks and generational shifts means that emergent change is happening in our society and will start happening in our companies too. Leaders shouldn’t fight it.

Instead leaders need to create the conditions so employees can drive change themselves from the grassroots, for the betterment of customers, employees and society.