Bottom-up Change Management – How To Overcome The Kerplunk Effect

Bottom up change management

By Andy Green – 20Twenty Leadership Programme Tutor.

How do you go about encouraging bottom-up change management?

Do you remember playing the game ‘Kerplunk’ where you took turns to remove a single straw from the plastic tube, and not let any marbles fall through into the tray?

Post-pandemic leaders face the ‘Kerplunk Effect’, where the inherent instability and complexity of the problems faced confound efforts to change just one or two of the variables. Sooner or later the marbles – the under-performance or setbacks – start falling through.

Leadership and management are inevitably complex. The profound disruption created by Covid-19 means you need to be more than just agile or flexible, but also twin-tracked – capable of delivering hybrid solutions from the top-down and bottom-up.

Top-down management, if used correctly, can establish a clear vision for future direction. It can however, suffer from a path dependency, making it hard to adapt when neat plans meet messy reality.

A hybrid approach of top-down and bottom-up can provide you with a more adaptable range of responses and build greater capacity for resilience.

The Llawen Model – A bottom-up led change model

A new five step change model, called the ‘Llawen Model’ created by Welsh social enterprise Grow Social Capital, provides a useful framework for enabling managers to seed, nurture and grow a community of changemakers.

1. Grow a changemaker community for bottom-up change management

The anthropologist Margaret Mead observed:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.” 

To create change, rather than begin with a mission of ‘How do we get everyone to? ask instead, How do we establish a small group of committed changemakers to create new ways of doing things so the rest will follow?’

You need to instil leadership in others, working with others throughout their communities. By seeking not leaderless groups but leaderful communities, you can encourage others to take initiative by:

  1. Providing clear and meaningful goals (short and long term)
  2. Allowing autonomy – giving people some freedom in how to do their work
  3. Providing sufficient resources. Giving enough time (but not too much)
  4. Helping with the work
  5. Learning from problems and successes. Listening and letting new ideas flow
  6. The purposeful leader works to build and grow collaborations of equal partner

2. Think BIGGER

You need to think bigger to accommodate new alternatives, different ways of doing and engaging. Bigger thinking requires bravery, and the ability to step outside your comfort zone. It requires commitment to persevere while being uncomfortable in a sometimes unfamiliar environment. It also needs imagination to think beyond existing ways of doing things, creating new scenarios and envisaging a bigger future landscape.

3. Overcome ‘Monsters’

Perhaps the most common storytelling plot is ‘Overcoming the Monsters’. Here, the hero of a story has had their normality overturned by a ‘Monster’ and before you finish the story the ‘Monster’ is defeated.

If you want to grow a cohesive community, the presence of a ‘Monster’ a challenge or threat is critical to give meaning and purpose at an individual and collective level.

4. Change through 1001 steps

The journey of a thousand miles may start with a single step. The establishment of new social norms, new established ways of doing is achieved through 1001 steps. Many of these will be insignificant or mundane, but each contribute to consolidating or extending the change you are seeking.

Celebrate the idea of ‘critical mundanity’ – the tiny steps that accrete to establish change.

5. Celebrate your ‘Hwyl’

For a group to stick together, face adversity and weather opposition to change you need a vital quality ‘Hwyl’ – a Welsh word meaning a sense of fun, enjoyment, commitment, and passion.

Purposefulness can mean being serious about achieving a common goal but needs levity at the right times to give people the lift need to help them overcome obstacles and challenges.

A bottom up led change model

A hybrid approach to change management

By creating a bottom-up led community you can overcome problems associated with top-down led strategies. These include not enough participation, over-bearing leaders, failing to realise the creative potential of a group, and micromanagement.

Instead, by investing in the confidence, capability, and connectivity of people you can unleash an unstoppable force for good.

Rather than clutching at straws in response to complexity, now is the time to adopt a hybrid approach, harnessing both top-down and bottom-up approaches that offers agility, resourcefulness, and drive to overcome the challenges of leading in a post-pandemic world.

The 20Twenty Leadership and Business Growth Programme looks in depth at how to manage change, motivate teams and how to communicate effectively through a variety of leadership tools and techniques. We also offer 1-1 leadership coaching and a variety of workshops on innovation and creativity as part of the course.


20Twenty Business Growth Programme will be offering its flagship level 7 and level 4 courses with up to 80% funding for a limited period only.

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