Forgotten Aspects of Change Management: Missing the “Middle”

Since much organizational change takes place ‘at the front line’, we make strenuous effort to ensure the success of people who must ‘do the work’ every day.   Procedures are written, barriers are analyzed, and exceptional efforts are taken to help front-line members of the organizations manage day-to-day actions when the change has been put in place.  Unfortunately, this approach disregards a vast population of critical middle management.   We have errantly assumed that people who are at managerial levels will magically be able to manage business in the future without doing the careful thinking required to (1) understand the impact of the change, and (2) find an alternative method for managing the business.

Managers at many levels of an organization have gained ‘rules of thumb’ (heuristics is the academic term) for seeing and understanding how business works through years of trial and error and deep thought processing.   They come up with techniques for information acquisition and decision making that is nearly tacit due to their experience.   They are, however, at risk during a major change.  Here’s why.  Upper management has had months, perhaps years to think about the change.  They have struggled with it, wrestled with it, dreamed about it, and come to conclusions about what to expect from the change.   I have observed that upper management has two expectations about change: front line people will be able to do this change when it is released, and management should be smart enough to ‘figure it out’ and manage the business when the change is done.  The focus is perennially on training the front line person.

“We focused so much on having our people do this that we forgot the leaders.”  Director

Many Change Initiatives are envisioned by executive management with a focus on the end user. As Change Leaders, however, we need to carefully consider the impact to Middle Management and hear their voices. They are often in the impossible situation of supporting a change they do not fully understand, yet the success of the change will stand or fall with their leadership

Business rules are broad concepts, requiring tacit judgments and experience, and they are not developed on the fly.  They must be thought on.   Requires reflection – cannot learn in an instant and use that in a judgment process.   Anchor concepts take time to develop and establish.   A big challenge in these implementations is downloading all the thought processes from the business analysis team to those who will execute and use the change/ system.

So we spend a lot of time working on the success of the front line person, without carefully considering the mid-level managers who ultimately will be held accountable for the success of the change.  We tend to think in terms of the front-line user, but the business philosophers need to know what’s happening.

Business Philosophers  Average Employee
Strategic Thinkers


Higher Order View


Tactical Thinkers


Day-to-day view

These Philosophers (high-level analytical thinkers who live and breathe the strategic side of the business) are engineering managers, financial people, HR managers and directors in strategic roles, VPs of Operations and others who need to spend time to think through the change to make it successful.   This is a hidden aspect of change because it flies in the face of executive expectations for middle managers to get on board quickly.   Ultimately, the goal is exposing the change to the business people who see the world at different levels.  These key players have a wider philosophical look at a change – they see connectedness to the parts.   Example: Financial level people, e.g. controllers see interconnectivity of the parts that other parts of a business may not see.  Call center and operations people see the world one way, executives see it another way.  No one is wrong, but they need time to think about how to think about the business.

So consider your middle managers, your business philosophers when you conduct a change.  They are the greatest source for change success or failure.

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