Part 1: The biggest mistake when engaging middle managers
Updated: Apr 28
It's commonly agreed that getting middle managers on board is absolutely critical for leading successful change. But the story doesn't end there. You see, often when we're assessing the impacts of a change for middle managers, we don't assess it correctly. We fall short.
We tend to focus on what we need middle managers to do in order to lead their teams through change. We think about the kind of messaging they'll need to adopt, the process changes they'll encounter, the new skills they'll need to develop, the new responsibilities they'll have in holding their teams accountable. Which is all well and good when you're thinking of the cascade down.
But you also need to remember: the middle managers themselves are going through the change, too.
And this is what many change leaders forget. Have you forgotten it before?
Middle managers can't lead the change for their teams, without being supported themselves. The change is happening to them, too. There are impacts to them, too, both professional and personal. So they can find themselves in a sticky web where they're trying to make sense of the change for themselves, as well as lead the change for their teams.
It's a tall order. And you wonder why you struggle to get them engaged, aligning to your plan, and helping you make your change a success!
How to fix it
But never fear, Lata's here. And I'm going to teach you how to fix this problem in two parts:
Part 1: How to assess the change for your managers properly (this article)
Part 2: Three ideas on how to set your middle managers up for success (keep your eye out for next week's article).
So Part 1 - you need to assess the change for your middle managers properly, taking into account the impacts to them as an individual rather than as a role, so that you have awareness of the challenges you may need to solve from an engagement perspective. When assessing impacts, consider it from two perspectives:
1) The impacts they will experience for themselves
This is what the change will mean for them. Their role, their responsibilities, their influence, their place in the organisation, and with complex changes like operating models, sometimes even their jobs and their pay (the two most emotive changes!). This is a self-focused view for the middle manager - it's about their perception, their fears, their hopes, their dreams, their risks. What will they think, feel and do regarding what the change means for their own situation? Map these impacts out and get a deep understanding: what does this change mean personally for the middle managers?
2) The impacts they will experience for their teams
Now, we flip the perspective. This is the selfless view for the middle manager - what do they need to know, feel and do regarding what the change means for their team, and their role in leading their team through the change. This is usually all the practical stuff you'd usually scope into the impacts: messaging, process, skills, roles, responsibilities. In order for your change to be an absolute success, how do you need these leaders to show up? What do they need to support them? And where could it all go wrong for them and their teams (risks)? Map these impacts out and you'll then have a view of the impacts from a role perspective.
Now, you've got a really holistic change impact assessment for middle managers. And for those who have been following me for a while, you might notice this reminds you of something: the Engagement Formula (read more about it in my previous article here). While the Engagement Formula is about the benefits of a change both from a group organisational/team lens and a personal, individual lens, we're applying the same principles here. Except we're applying it to assessing impacts. Considering change holistically for every stakeholder group is critical... and middle managers even more so.
So now you know how to assess the impacts, next week I'll share my top advice for setting your middle managers up for engagement success. Stay tuned!
I'm Lata Hamilton - Change Leadership and Confidence expert, Founder & CEO of Passion Pioneers, and the creator of the Leading Successful Change program.
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