When significant change needs to happen in an organisation, a big question to address is how to involve the middle management. Transformation models will be on a spectrum ranging from a central push to a divisional pull. A centralised effort would have the advantage of defining a common transformation scope, putting together a comprehensive solution, building an integrated plan, formulating a consistent communication and progressing at pace, at least initially. Yet, because of its reliance on external support to make things happen, such an approach would bypass line management at the risk of either threatening the sustainability of the changes or weakening the position of line managers in the long run. Moreover, the divisional tolerance for central initiatives has to be gauged as it could derail any well-meaning effort.
Turning the approach on its head, a collaborative model would bring commitment from all corners of the organisation, and leave the second and third layers of management in charge of the narrative for the change and the realisation of its benefits. However, such an approach presents the drawback of different speeds and courses across the organisation, multiple solution definitions, unmatched levels of ambition, and the risk of slow incremental progress. It can also be daunting for managers to take charge of their remit’s transformation as a side activity to their day job.
Where should you start? Much will hinge on the corporate culture in your organisation and the related ability of your middle management to lead change. As often, it is sensible to consider combining the two extremes and only keep their respective upsides. The diagnostic of a problem and the definition of its solution could be shared across the organisation, while the deployment would remain local. The ability to generate a cross-divisional solution will always be preferable to local specific fixes. That common approach requires a significant contribution from all parts of the organisation to reflect the needs for change and create commitment to the solution. In the end, the recommendation should define expectations of outcome, and tools to achieve them, shaped in a framework that can be applied to all parts of the business. The local ownership of an implementation would then defy most operational challenges, at a rhythm reflecting the divisional ability to commit to change. In all instances, facilitation should be the only central contribution.
Finally, some change enablers should be pooled centrally to maintain the transformation pace, like a PMO to act as a broker of current and relevant information between the transformation teams and the governance structures in place, common core activities requested for the overall success of the transformation, or a challenge of the divisional ambitions when required.
So, when you consider launching an ambitious transformation of your organisation, it might be worth asking yourself the following questions to ensure that you mobilise properly your middle management:
How would you orchestrate the transformation? Who would be accountable for its success?
What is the ability of your middle managers to lead change? What kind of support would they need to be successful?
What role should the management team play to enable a local implementation to be successful?