In many organisations middle managers hold a lot of influence both over their peers and direct reports. They are often either strong leaders or, less positively, they’re feared by their team members. These middle managers will play a significant role in any change process.
They are the subject matter experts and often play a pivotal role in transferring knowledge up the chain of command to executives and cascading it down to frontline employees.
During a change process, these managers often assume one of four characters that can be supportive or problematic for the change management team. I call these characters the Four Fs: Friend, Foe, Faux Amigo and Fickle-ist.
The friend of change embraces the change initiative and will help drive implementation. These are the Yays of change.
Change foes go out of their way to sabotage the change initiative. They will do this via their hierarchal power as well as through using their informal communication networks.
The faux amigo of change outwardly embraces the change initiative. However, they translate messages from the executive sponsor to their direct reports tailoring the message to fit with their own agenda.
The fickle-ist stakeholder will be unpredictable. It is easy to mistake this guy as a friend because sometimes he’ll appear to support the change initiatives whilst at other times he will seek to undermine the change – often at crucial ‘pinch points’ in the project.
Ignore middle managers at your peril. A third of participants in a 2011 benchmarking study undertaken by Prosci (Best Practices in Change Management – 2012 Edition) identified middle level managers as the most resistant group to change.
The best way to help managers past any sense of resistance to change is to pre-empt it and to provide detailed, two-way, frequent, consistent, contextualised communications. Every change initiative has three states which answer three questions: ‘Where are we?’ ‘Where do we want to be?’ And ‘how are we going to get there?’ Managers want this future state of ‘where do we want to be’ articulated. The goals defined. How s/he fits into this vision, explained.
Managers want to feel that the change is happening with them; not to them.
S/he also wants to have the business imperative for moving from the current state of ‘where we are now’ put into some perspective. It follows with this contextualisation that managers want to be involved at the outset of the change initiative. They want to feel that the change is happening with them; not to them.
Being involved means they need to understand what is expected of them during the change transition. How the change process is being measured and what the personal and professional benefits of the initiative are.
Involvement necessitates asking these middle managers for feedback on the change project plan. As subject experts and those closest in the organisation to the front line staff this feedback is often invaluable.
Make these managers into the friends of change. The Yays. And remember it is a natural feeling to want to resist change. So, expect resistance, plan for it and reduce its impact.
Scott Guthrie works with companies to drive business growth in the social age through strategic insight and technical know-how. Read my full bio here.