The Top Three Reasons why Middle Managers struggle with Change @ Work 

By  Debbie Nicol

Let’s not forget that Middle Managers are people too! While they need to be the go-to person for their team during workplace changes, they firstly explore and determine their own levels of commitment or resistance during the implementation of change. According to the latest Prosci® Best Practice Report, resistance for middle managers is fueled by:

1. Organizational Culture

Imagine a day when your leader announces a major change to take place on Monday. You had no prior knowledge, you received no further detail, you had not been involved in the discussions and decisions leading up to this moment. The desired outcome and indicators of success have not been mentioned. You have no access to the reasons why the change is happening, nor what will be required of you. Due to this reality, it is likely your confidence levels would decrease when it comes to leading others through the change.

Organizational Culture can be a great source of resistance if this description typifies the way a company operates, and seems beyond the sphere of influence of middle managers.

2. Lack of Awareness and Knowledge about the Change

Adults are babies in big bodies. We know that a child will always ask ‘why’; so too an adult, as this provides the reasons for the need to change and also the consequences of not changing. Through receiving that information, a middle manager would also understand more about the nature of the change. Yet, even with Awareness (the ‘why’ of change), there is still a need for greater depth to Knowledge (the ‘how to’ of change). 

  • Imagine a Chef who has been told to change the pie menu, yet not given the recipe nor an understanding of why the prior item is ‘off the menu’.
  • Imagine an Accountant who has been informed by the CFO the accounting system is currently outdated and must change, yet provided no insights into its failings and what is required to close the gaps.
  • Imagine the IT Officer’s app has just been scrapped, with no reasons being shared, and no idea or direction as to how to evolve to a higher standard.
  • Imagine the HR Officer receiving a directive to change the company’s uniform with no understanding of the what, why or new priorities.

The ‘why’ and ‘how to’ of change is imperative for a middle manager as it will fill in the blanks, opening the pathway to clarity, and further action.

Lack of Buy-In

We’re back to middle managers being real people, with real human needs first and foremost. You are a real person too, and consciously or unconsciously filter any change requests through your values, opinions, background experiences, history and credibility of the sender, and the list goes on. When something does not align to your realm of reality, why would you accept to adopt any change?

A middle manager is almost superhuman, stuck between those above (often out of touch with what’s really happening on the ground) and those below (who depend heavily on the one closest to them for support). Being there for both parties is a balancing act for any middle manager – how long could you continue to serve all those around you, compromising the very core of what matters most to yourself? 

Many moons ago, my mentor taught me to behold resistance, grab it and serve it; after all, it is only showing up to be heard. It simply wants attention, answers and opportunity for  alignment. 

If you lead a middle manager:

  • Anticipate, and provide for the needs of the manager during change, before resistance shows up.
  • Provide the what, why and how of change, so the puzzle is as complete as possible. 
  • Allow time for the manager to process and explore the WIFM (What’s In It For Me) factor.
  • Walk alongside the middle manager during change, providing consistent and relevant support.

Debbie Nicol

Debbie is tenacious, resilient, can break complexity and ambiguity into concrete simplicity, eats the stage, loves to challenge, Author.
Debbie is a Change Practitioner, Facilitator, Conceptualizer, Design Capability, Asks the right questions, Builds Customized Solutions, Life's Mirror

Debbie Nicol

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Subscribe to our newsletter now!