Topeka System’s Perspectives on Effectively Leading Change

Organizations have toiled in their search of ways to institute change that brings about success in the modern business environment. Adding to this search are many theories and models of leadership that have not proved effective in practice. Zaccaro and Horn (2003) for instance review the reasons why such theoretical models might not be effective practically. Among such reasons are those provided by Blair and Hunt (1985) such as the principal focus of theoretical models on interpersonal elements of leadership; and others introduced by the authors such as minimal attention that leadership theories offer to “conceptual dynamics of leadership practice” (Zaccaro, & Horn, 2003, p.776). In this respect this section explores the perspectives of effectively leading change advanced by Cohen (2004) and in “Topeka pride” (n.d).

The Topeka model of leadership has been advanced in the two articles. Cohen (2004) for instance notes of two kinds of entrepreneurial leaders that modern organizations need to have. The first of these are the top personnel at the organization chart whose role is to create the firm’s vision and subsequently establish requisite environment for the vision achievement at every level (Cohen, 2004). In the second article such is exemplified by the project leaders and managers who were charged with development of the Topeka organization (“Topeka pride,” n.d). Secondly, leaders are needed at different levels of the organization to unearth and track opportunities that bring about practical change to the organization (Cohen, 2004, p. 16). Such are provided for by team leadership that the Topeka model advocates for (“Topeka pride,” n.d).

A second concern of “Building a company of leaders” is how to develop these two kinds of entrepreneurial leaders in the organization. In respect to these Cohen (2004) notes the importance that supportive systems and process play in ensuring the successful development of entrepreneurial leaders. First an articulate vision that guides decisions, commitment and actions towards the envisioned future for different stakeholders needs to be established and constantly underpinned. In fact Topeka’s vision was to create an organization where employee “alienation” would be avoided in an aim of making the organization a formidable competitor in the market (“Topeka pride,” n.d). According to Cohan (2004) such cannot be achieved by emphasizing the organization’s monetary goals, control, and/ or preserving a revered position.

Secondly establishment of a constant reward and recognition culture is advanced to inspire employees into initiating change (Cohen, 2004). In the Topeka approach, these rewards should not only be achievement based but also cater for innovative ideas worth of the organization’s support (Cohen, 2004). In such a way it is advanced that the aspect of risk-taking and investment are developed in the employees. The second article buttresses this in the rewards provided for continuous learning (“Topeka pride,” n.d). Cohen (2004) further notes that punishing employees for failing on their first attempt is synonymous to burying the potential for innovative changes. This further buttresses the intent of the Topeka system to inspire innovative approaches to problem solution at all levels.

Other factors have also been advanced to bring about required leadership for change. Reducing hierarchical structures, adopting flatter organizations and decreasing inter-unit divides are noted to build responsible leadership in an organization (Cohen, 2004). In the Topeka scenario for instance, only three management levels in the organization existed, there was minimal differential status symbols and supportive functions were integral to each team work performance (“Topeka pride,” n.d). Having small units that are involved in “cross-functional teams” is also advanced to provide the requisite challenges needed to build creativity in employees thus bringing about change in the organization (Cohen, 2004). Such are noted of the Topeka system in the second article; “semi-autonomous work groups” form the basic units for the organization with team sizes varying from 7-14 members (“Topeka pride, n.d). Moreover, allowing expression of such leadership by funding employee- generated innovative ideas – where possible – is advanced to be important in inspiring leadership development in an entity (Cohen, 2004). Finally what is advanced in the article to lead change is establishing effective communication channels that relay customer feedback to all employees (Cohen, 2004). Most impediments to developing such leadership in the organization are however advanced to rest in perceived leaders who are repugnant to change (Cohen, 2004). This is what the second article discusses under “corporate ‘stone walling plant democracy” (“Topeka pride, n.d, p. 6).The effectiveness in the management philosophy of the Topeka system can thus be thought of to be in its advocacy of articulate vision establishment and effective communication of such throughout the organization; and Team work development and empowerment of individuals in a team. Go to part 3.

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