Many managers feel sandwiched in the middle. They find themselves between top management and the people in the teams. Pressured from the top to execute corporate initiatives as quickly as possible and resistance from the teams to comply to them.
The two researchers Susann Gjerde and Mats Alvesson -authors of books like ‘Coaching’ and ‘Change Management in Organizations’ that I have read- just recently spent time at the University of Lund exploring this group of managers specifically.
They discovered that there is a widespread approach that is common for middle managers. They consider themselves to be the ‘umbrella carriers’ in the organization, protecting their teams from unwanted or disturbing initiatives being pushed down into the organization from above.
This might appear shocking at first, but then, it might not be so surprising. The frustating part must be that many initiatives from top management are thought to be driving the organization to achieve new levels of performance or reach higher goals. So, it might appear from the top as if many of these initiatives are blocked by middle management limiting the company’s success.
But that would be an illusion as Mats Alvesson points out in his book ‘Change Management in Organizations’. He claims that top management shouldn’t hand over the change initiatives to the line and expect perfect execution.
To start a change project or a transformation initiative, it would also be better not to think about changes and change management as a linear process, like a steeple race, where everything happens in a simple sequence and controllable steps. Instead, to be successful with a change project, it would be better to accept the fact that it all might be more like a soccer match, with many activities happening at the same time.
In this soccer match scenario management gets involved in four distinct ways:
- They pick the team players and create sub-teams, like defense and midfield.
- They define the winning strategy with the team, explaining their roles and purpose.
- Management instructs and trains the players how to win the game.
- They follow-up on certain progress statistics and milestones so that they are able to take decisions and take corrective action on the way.
However, this approach is in contrast to the widely spread strategy taught by Peter Drucker’s ‘Management by Objectives’. That alone could be the reason why 70% of organizational changes fail to reach their targets in outcome, budget or time.
Perhaps you have noticed that the number of required changes and transformations in your organization has increased considerably too. It seems like managing change or an organizational transformation has become the key competence for any manager these days.
Consequently, the way we look at managing change needs to change too. It would help to create a tight partnership between the different management levels during the change process. It would also be beneficial to train all the managers involved more in the theory and the skills as the dynamics of change and management diver, according to Alvesson. This way you could lead your next organisational change more successfully.
All the best with your next change program!
Colin Luthardt is also a coach with international coaching experience and international key note speaker. Colin has studied Strategic Intervention at the Robbins-Madanes-Training center. He is the author of “Speaking the Language of Leadership” available on Amazon as book, ebook or audio. The book is about a true story with a group of good managers that increased their efficiency by nearly 50% by becoming great leaders.
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