How to engage middle managers during change

Early in my career, I began to see a trend where project teams driving substantial change did an excellent job organizing the technical elements of the change, and provided training for front line employees. Further, once the change was implemented, employees used the new approaches for a while and then slowly reverted to old ways. When I explored why this happened, I consistently discovered that middle-managers were not adequately engaged to sustain the change. I learned that oftentimes in the rush to implement, project teams did not engage middle-managers because these managers were too busy dealing with day-to-day operational issues. It was the project team’s responsibility to execute.

I call this The Immovable Middle, not because middle managers are not willing to participate, but more likely because they are busy operating the current day-to-day environment. They don’t have the time or resources to think about the next substantial change that is coming their way. Yet their participation is essential for several reasons.
• They ultimately are accountable to see that their employees sustain the change.
• They identify the metrics need to change, and are instrumental in their implementation.
• They, along with some of their employees, are in the best position to identify up-stream and down-stream impacts of the change, and ensure that they are working cross-functionally to ensure a smooth transition.
• They are in the best position to help rationalize the change – meaning – help the project team and organizational leaders understand how the change will work well, and where it might fall short.
• Finally, over the long term, they are the people in the organization that are best able to assess which employees are adopting and executing the change most effectively, and can mete out recognition and rewards accordingly.

When middle managers are effectively engaged in defining and driving the change, you increase the probability that your change will be successful. It also increases the probability to sustain the change. This drives up the value, oftentimes making the difference between achieving success or not. Depending on the nature of your change, this means improved customer satisfaction, greater efficiency, more revenue, and faster growth.

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll explore a few of these points further.