How many times have you heard people in an organization say, we can’t change until Senior Management makes the change? And, of course, this means everyone is paralyzed with a good excuse for inaction.
The most common belief about culture change is that executives must lead and model the change in order for the rest of the organization to follow. Senior management needed to define the culture change and values, demonstrate those new behaviors, and then implement it down the organization in descending order. It makes perfect sense, since they are the leaders and they must lead the organization to its new culture. But, this way of thinking leaves everyone else “victim” to senior management and powerless to create change.
Senior management has a clear role in culture change. They are to define the organization’s strategy for business success in the near future and determine some of the essential attributes of leadership competencies necessary for achieving those business outcomes. They must not only be aligned, but they must demonstrate their alignment through effective communication and taking action consistent with agreed upon decisions made by the senior management team. How often do you run into senior management teams who are aligned in the board room when they make a decision, but who undermine that decision when they get back to their functional reports?
Middle Managers as Change Agents
Middle managers have the role of receiving the business strategy from senior management and executing that strategy. They represent the link between strategy, operational effectiveness, and execution. The problem is that culture change requires a consistent effort across the organization – it is one culture not many different cultures in the ideal state. However, most middle managers are focused on their “vertical” responsibilities of managing their functional area as opposed to their “horizontal” responsibilities of managing effective execution across the organization. Therefore, middle management is the most fragmented group of leaders in most organizations. They are aligned on the goals, but the way they are executing on those goals is different between each department.
However, if middle management, especially upper middle management becomes aligned with a unified accountability for both the business results and the organization’s culture, they are the optimal group of people to lead change, manage change, and monitor the effectiveness of the culture change and business outcomes that are impacted.
As you have probably figured out, this means that the first culture change to take place in an organizational culture change effort is with the culture of middle management. They must change their mindset and beliefs of leadership away from only taking ownership for their functional responsibilities, to having ownership for operational effectiveness across the organization. They must develop shared leadership practices amongst all middle managers, demonstrate a greater level of consistency, and alignment. They must develop a means for effectively communicating with one voice to upper management as well as their direct reports. And, they must develop measurements that link the culture to the business results and employee morale.
When middle management changes their culture as leaders the organization will follow by demonstrating:
- A new mindset and habits of behavior associated with clear direction for success in the future,
- Inclusive decision making cross-functionally
- Consistent follow-up and follow-through,
- Common approaches to surfacing and resolving problems before they become a crisis,
- Holding others accountable for culture and business results.
Are Your Middle Managers Prepared to Lead Change?
- Do your middle managers suffer from “silo” thinking where they are primarily focused on the results of their functional area?
- Do middle managers demonstrate consistent and effective leadership practices across the organization or do they represent having different standards of excellence?
- How effective are middle managers at communicating clear direction and messages of senior management to their direct reports and those in their functional area?
- How effective are middle managers taking initiative for changing organizational practices related to operational effectiveness across the organization?
- How effective does middle management execute strategic plans and new business strategies?