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How do you manage change from the middle? The role managers need to play in organisational change


Organisational change might often be thought of as something that is driven by leaders and endured by the rest of the business. In reality, of course, any organisational change is a process that must be managed and properly executed at every level of the organisation. Arguably nowhere is this truer than in relation to middle managers.


Middle managers are a crucial facet of change management because they are in direct day-to-day contact with the teams whose roles will need to alter if the change is to be effective. It is their conduct and approach to the change – particularly in relation to demonstrating their overarching support of its aims – that is likely to determine the way that their team views the challenge ahead of them.


This crux position at the intersection between those creating the strategy and those largely enacting the change, often leads to the perception that it is middle managers that most frequently prevent change initiatives from developing effectively. They might be assumed to use their power and area of competence to guard their own part of the business, deliberately or indirectly obstructing change initiatives through the way they direct their team to tackle it.

In reality, middle managers must play a challenging game through change, balancing the aims of the organisation against the needs of their team; supporting the individuals affected, while being aware of how the change will personally impact upon them. They need to translate a change initiative into a form that is best understood and enacted by their specialist team. They must apply their detailed knowledge of their business area and the wider organisational workings to minimise the disruption and possible negative impact of any change. They are also best positioned to refine and tweak a change initiative to best fit a particular team, refining an overarching concept into a specific, workable action plan for a particular team.


To be an effective part of a change initiative, middle managers must be fully equipped to undertake their role – from having the skills and tools necessary to effectively handle the challenge, to being prepared for the unquestionable pressure that comes with the position. Their role in change should be fully recognised by other parts of the organisation, and they must be personally ready to make a significant contribution to the effectiveness of the change programme.

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