Start with Middle Management in your Change Approach

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Bottom-up Approach > Best Practices > Start with Middle Management in your Change Approach

Start with Middle Management in your Change Approach
Marl van der Toorn, Manager, Netherlands, Moderator
Following up the discussion “Bottom-up Approach Towards Organizational Change” I think that even in a bottom-up or top-down approach, the key to achieving a successful change in a (large) organization, is the middle management. Without the commitment of those managers not much will happen.

Also according to Patrick McGurk (Sept 2011), "middle managers have traditionally been seen as the organisational ‘linking pins’ (Likert 1961), a view which is echoed in more recent research on managerial work by Mintzberg (2009: 138), who finds that middle management is the place in which the organisation best integrates its activities. Balogun (2003), identified middle managers as ‘change intermediaries’. In this study, middle managers played the dual role of interpreting and ‘making sense’ of organisational change, both for themselves and their teams, and balancing the pressures of managing continuity of service with the implementation of change".

Due to the above, I recommend to:
1. Introduce an idea/change at the middle management level in an early stage.
2. Educate and coach those managers on achieving group/organizational goals instead of personal/departmental goals.

Source: Patrick McGurk (Sept 2011) The Contingent Role of Management and Leadership Development for Middle Managers - Cases of Organisational Change from the Public Services

Change Management Starts in the Middle
Hor Kam Peng, Business Consultant, Malaysia, Member
Couldn't agree with you more, Marl! Top Management is expected to lead the change and best implementors are the middle managers as they are closer to the ground level. If they walk the talk and exhibit changed behavior, the rest will follow.
Office politics at times can be difficult to handle but if there is a common vision and mission and the teams work towards the organizational goals, the process will foster better communication and relationship.
These middle managers will also realize their personal goals along the way.

Middle-out Change Management
Andrew Blaine, Business Consultant, South Africa, Member
I agree entirely with your hypothesis and suggest it could be accurately named "Middle Spread Management"?!

Change-readiness, a Crucial Factor
Sonny Vicente, Coach, Philippines, Member
I agree that organizational change would have to be two pronged. Support from the top and buy-in from the implementing layer of management should be present to effect an effective and sustainable change. The challenge I believe would be the change-readiness of both top and middle management. Changes in capacity and competency can follow if not already in place when people are enrolled that a change should happen to effect a sustainable growth of the organization.

Mid-Managers Make it Happen or Not
Kathy Hevey, Management Consultant, United States, Member
I agree. Middle Managers can make or break a change initiative. They need to understand the reasons for it and consequences of not changing as well as those who have defined the change. The Mid-Managers are the ones who have to translate it to the rest of the organization.

Role of Middle Managers in Organizational Change
sekgalabye, Student (MBA), South Africa, Member
A locomotive is never directed by the middle coaches. The middle coaches are controlled by the engine and they control the last coaches. The same goes for change management. The middle management can assist in both top-down and bottom-up approaches.
- In a top down approach they may be able to convince workers(rank and file) to look at external factors that necessitate planned, emergent or continuous change.
- In a bottom up approach the middle layer may be able to sell the change request to the top.
I therefore agree with the assertion that middle management can be useful implementers of change, however the same goes for derailing the change as the middle coaches have a way of derailing the engine of the locomotive and the last coaches.

Interpreters in General
Barney Wade Howard, Manager, United States, Member
Good article. I see middle managers sometimes as "interpreters" of the laws. In my organization, new policies are brought before middle management where they will be highly scrutinized or lauded by all those that are in the trenches. Where it is true that policies have to reflect the dynamics of a growing business, some simply do not need to exist. When they do make through the gauntlet, it is often the middle management that has to figure out how to implement and interpret their meaning to their direct reports. Middle management is also the buffer between top and bottom often absorbing the disdain for such implementations. However the middle manager is usually happy with what they do and appreciate the station they hold reacting with quiet zeal all the time realizing they can move up but not necessarily wanting to.

The 'Squeezed Middle'
Gary Stead, Director, United Kingdom, Member
OK - this title may best be recognized in UK! Acting as a global change agent (sounds great) I propose to add to this great debate:-
Yes, middle is where the action is - and yes - you likely need middle management to buy into and deliver organization change.
People do mostly react best when pulled and not pushed.
Recognize the visionary for this change is unlikely to come from senior leadership. He or she will come from somewhere within or without the organization.
So as a leader - you need to identify the source and agents of change - and nurture them.
Do not forget - you are responsible for making change happen - so be the sustaining sponsor of the change itself, message the benefits - and ensure you enlist your middle early.
You may - or may not - discover middle managers are your best change agents - and your next leaders!

Stuck in the Middle
Rebecca Roe, United States, Premium Member
It all depends on what you are changing. Only those working in a culture can relate to taking a concept and adapt/model it for culture change. Unless there's an emergent ultimate risk to the client or organization, then a top down approach would be mandated and dispersed on a unit level by middle management.
For improvement and efficiency changes, bottom up works well. Reason being it comes from workers working in a unique culture.

Selecting the Right Change Management Approach
Sithembiso Mkhwanazi, Project Manager, South Africa, Member
I support Gary & Rebecca.
Surely a change in any organisation starts with a concept, and is carefully studied before implementation. Starting with middle management, who may not always deliver objectives at a desired speed. For me, the key is change-readiness planning once the strategic direction is defined. We have classic cases in South Africa politics where important debates are raised about democracy and constitution, and labour on the other hand driving to be strategic partners in businesses. The experience now is beginning to prove that diversity can not be taken lightly when you implement change. Simply put, culture is one major catalyst to change. As for me, change approach should be environment's fit in order to work. I think middle management comes naturally later to manage change.

Here are some questions that come to mind:
What is it that you want to change? What are the threat levels, and methods to turn them around? When do you want to see the change? What is the scope of change? Do you have the tools to change, monitor and control? Are you and/or organisation ready?

Middle Management: One Key Role to Achieve Organizational Change
Sudarshan Ramaiah, Manager, India, Member
As per my opinion, organizational change is very much needed to survive in today's competitive world. Middle management has a key role to play in effective implementation of change. But also the employees behavior, company's work culture, the volume of change, effective communication, and top management's commitment have equal stakes in achieving success.

Levels 2, 3, and 4 are Often More the Cause of Problems than Being the Solutions
j.a. karman, ICT Consultant, Netherlands, Member
The assumption is the middle management is in a position to contribute to desired change in a bottom-up or top-down approach.
This assumption can be wrong as their position can be often more like:
1. One of keeping things as they are, being threatened by changes.
2. Trying to survive in a business that has ended up in a situation where the change of the organization has become a goal on his own. These changes not being aligned to the core business goals anymore.
If they are trying to keep the image of willingness to cooperate in the change or they are not being allowed to give feedback on the issues that need to be solved, the result is that the change-process you are trying to achieve is getting blocked.

Middle Managers as Catalyst
Fillemon Nangolo Hambuda, HR Consultant, Namibia, Member
Even though I wholeheartedly agree with your theory, I suggest that middle management can only do so with the help and acceptance of the executive team. It is thus important to first have an engaged executive team.
Secondly, the organisation should also have the right employees in the right places. Remember not all employees are assets, only those that are engaged.

Tips for Success
Rebecca Roe, United States, Premium Member
@J. A. Karman: I agree with you JA in that most middle managers are 1) not given full support by upper management 2) are used as a venting outlet for staff 3) rarely have the opportunity to form relationships with other middle managers.
What happens is that stagnation occurs because upper management will seek mid level managers who will ultimately carry out their mandates; expecting great results but meeting resistance by the workers and trying to appease both sides. This is a hard place to work in and most won't rock the boat so that they can move up the ladder.
I have found when middle managers are given the chance to have their own group, form relationships with other mid level managers, and discuss similar issues, then great things can be accomplished. I have seen this happen and when successes happen, upper management halts the progress. They become a little threatened. If by chance, you have upper management that is confident, then progress happens.

Middle Managers - Change Agents
Paul Steele, Consultant, Australia, Member
There are many good points here made by many of the contributors. Middle managers are the linch pins who are charged with translating senior management direction into explicit behaviors directed at required outcomes; implementation is always a great place to start but it is the execution of directives that brings many undone, so middle managers need to be trained in both implementation and execution of the change process.
Change holds connotations of having to leave something behind, something of one's self must be given up to achieve the change and this is always difficult to do.
Instead of trying to change everything and everyone, try to use the term growth, the employee wants to grow to be a better person and employee/manager, and so too does the organisation wish to grow - neither necessarily wishes to change, simply grow, be more effective and more efficient.

Each Organization Has a Wave Pattern!!! It is Unique!!
Dr zahra gheidar, Consultant, Iran, Member
Organizations, to achieve success, should consider all factors. They need all elements. In each organization these elements are unique.
Organizations are like LAKES! YES, when we throw a stone into a lake, it creates waves. An organization is a lake too.
1. The least movement results in a wave.
2. Waves signal a transfer of energy.
3. A successful organization needs to make waves consistently.
Therefore, we can see a wave pattern in each organization.

Middle Management as Drivers of Change
VMK3, Analyst, Zimbabwe, Member
There is need for the executives to buy-in. This is the only way that their energy can be transferred to middle management. Using Zahra's wave theory, the executive is the first stone thrown into the lake/pond that will create waves that will in turn transfer energy to middle management.
If executive management does not buy into the process then they can deliberately create confusion or make middle management waste time chasing wind. In such cases you will see the Board, that is, if the Board manages to see through executives' shenanigans, asking the CEO or the whole executive team to resign. They will politely communicate that the CEO is retiring/leaving to pursue personal interests (as if they would not be pursuing personal interests while at the organisation).

Drivers of Transformation and its Implementation
Andrew Blaine, Business Consultant, South Africa, Member
So much has been written about where transformation is best introduced into an organisation that I tihnk it may assist if we broaden the topic a little bit to give it some points of reference.
Transformation is forced on a business from the following sources:
- Technology - where new technology changes the production process;
- Customer - where customer habits and needs force change in the product or production process;
- The Business itself - where the needs of those making/managing production force a change so that they remain involved.
- The Regulator. This entity controls the forces of transformation through regulation which can, if not carefully managed, have a significant impact on business.

Secondly, identification of the need for change is the responsibility of the Board/senior management and it is also their responsibility to plan and implement the required change.

Whether they choose top-down, middle-out or bottom-up, it is a function of the need and nature of change. I hope this helps!

Organisation Transformation
VMK3, Analyst, Zimbabwe, Member
Andrew, what you are saying is very correct. The process has to be initiated from somewhere, and it's the responsibility of the Board which they mandate to senior management, and senior management should be seen to be walking the talk - the buy-in that everyone is talking about.

Bottom-up Approach to Organisational Change
Paul Steele, Consultant, Australia, Member
Agreed, middle managers are the linch pin in the organisation. Politics weigh a heavy influence at this level. Upper management is responsible for the (tacit) strategy and planning and goal setting for the organisation, middle managers are responsible for converting the tacit into explicit behaviors.
It is the interpretation, implementation and execution that is the sticking point. Organisations are great at planning and goal setting; it is in the area of execution, of change particularly, where they fall down; they find it difficult to manage across silos.

Special Interest Group Leader
Brett E Holdeman
Student (University)

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