Middle Managers. That’s the most often given answer to the question, “Who most resists change in your organization?”
It would be easy to go along with the crowd and turn middle managers into the villains of our change story, but something doesn’t seem right. It seems too easy to scapegoat them, individually and collectively. Instead, I’ve been doing some deeper thinking, questioning, and experimenting.
Why could it be that middle managers resist change the most? Could it be that they are in what likely appears to be a “no win situation”?
Middle managers perform an essential bridging function in organizations. They take lofty senior leader directives and turn them into tangible actions for real people to complete in real challenging situations. They are often mid-career, longer tenured in the organization, and situated in the least risk tolerant portion of their lives.
Middle managers are under pressure from all sides. Either they will be destroyed by the pressure or they will come out of it stronger, brighter, and more valuable. I call that the Diamond Zone.
When the status quo for creating change is Driving People, the Diamond Zone is more of a crush zone.
- Pressure from the top comes in executive directives with weak sponsorship, limited budgets, and vanishing timelines.
- Pressure from the bottom comes in employee demands which oscillate between “change everything I hate” and “keep everything I like the same.”
- Pressure from the left comes from past decisions and current demands from family and life: mortgages, college costs, elder care, looming retirement, and more.
- Pressure from right comes from the future’s unknowns: “Will I be able to retire as I’d planned?” “Will I retire from this job?” “If I lose this job could I find anything better?” “What will my legacy be?”
When the status quo for creating change is Driving Change, the Diamond Zone can be where the middle manager finally has a chance to shine.
- Pressure from the top comes in executive partnerships to struggle together to do what the organization has never done, being honest about the budget and urgent, but honest about the timelines to get there.
- Pressure from the bottom comes in employees moving fast toward their potential. As your executives have enrolled you, so you too can enroll your employees into the changes they want to make. Driving change allows every level to get involved and shape the future.
- Pressure from the left is still there…that’s just life, but the change agent’s motto helps a manager to focus on what they can control. “I will do what I can, with what I have, where I am.”
- Pressure from the right is still there…but when you’re building your strength and helping your organization change and adapt, you’re doing everything you can to help shape the future.
As the pressures push in now, their combined force doesn’t crush to dust…it strengthens, fortifies, preserves the current and future potential of the middle manager.
So, if your middle managers are your change resistors, chances are good:
- You’re driving people.
- You’re blaming them, not supporting them.
- You’re judging from a time in your life or a risk position that they don’t share.
The cure is easy:
- Drive change.
- Support them so they can support others.
- Get curious, not judgmental, and mitigate the risks together.
Middle Managers. Let’s make them the most often given answer to the question: “Who most accelerates change in your organization?”
Why not try?