Knowledge ManagementLeadership
March 2, 2016

Middle Management

The only constant………..Change

And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

T.S. ELIOT (1942): LITTLE GIDDING

Change is necessary and inevitable. While it may produce conflict, without change there will almost certainly be conflict. Change is also hard, especially when tensions mount, people object, and leadership is tested. It is hardest to accept and implement when there is:

1. No recent change. Change becomes comfortable when it occurs regularly. When nothing has changed in a long time, people get uncomfortable and resist. Easing into small changes and quick wins stretches the comfort level and spurs the hunger for more change.

2. No culture of change. Sometimes people are conditioned against change. Regardless of policy intentions, it springs up as culture that takes years to change. Rooting out conformity and complacency is a precondition of change.

3. No vision for change. Some people never agree with change of any kind, no matter how clear. Opposition is likely when there is no compelling reason for change. Persistent communication helps explain why change is needed.

4. No obvious change leader. People follow leaders they trust. When no one capable owns the vision of change, people back off. It is vital when implementing change that leaders are in place to carry the charge for change.

5. No guaranteed benefits of change. Change moves us into the unknown. Anything worthwhile usually comes with risk. People object when the return on risk cannot be discerned. Leadership bridges the tension between the comfort of where we are and the potential of where we could be.

Stuck in a rut?

None of these scenarios is reason not to change. Understanding them can help navigate through change. American author Helen Keller said: “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” The flip side is that many find themselves stuck in a rut, feeling unable to manage or cope with change.

A Forbes article revealed the results of recent Right Management and Mercer surveys:

  • Only 35% of North American workers are satisfied with their jobs;
  • Nearly two-thirds (65%) are not happy at work; and
  • Between 28% and 56% of employees in 17 places around the world want to leave their jobs.

There is a good chance that someone you know is among the statistics of those who would bolt if given the chance. For economic reasons, many choose to stay, although their heart is just not in it. Antidotes to being stuck in a rut include:

  • Come clean about feelings to create space to think about where you want to go;
  • Renew purpose and passion by taking time to recharge your batteries and gain fresh perspective;
  • Become an agent of change by initiating constructive first steps to shake things up;
  • Work on attitude by choosing every day to take command of keeping it positive; and
  •  Plough through by counting your blessings and remaining resilient.

What middle managers can do

The pressure on government to secure better choices, results, and accountability is intensifying. Leaders struggle with rapidly evolving technology, open data, and horizontal integration. Managing change while the work keeps changing requires public institutions to master change management to be change-effective.

Middle managers must embrace change as a constant. Thinking ‘this is our policy’ or ‘this is the way we do things around here’ only works for so long. They know how to manage expectations upward when leaders feel threatened by change, focus too much on doing things their way, or fail to motivate others. They also make room for mavericks to topple the status quo.

Middle managers need to model the fundamentals of achieving successful change. They know what inhibits change and innovation, how to effectively lead new initiatives, how to engage teams in new strategies, and how to get staff to drive sustainable innovations.

When the organization or its people get in a rut, middle managers can help everyone be honest about where things are going by rekindling passion and purpose. The trick is to change what can be changed, starting with your own attitude. Middle managers must persist in not allowing the ruts of life and work to keep them down.
NEXT ISSUE: Complexity

 

JOHN WILKINS IS ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR: PUBLIC MANAGEMENT WITH THE SCHULICH SCHOOL OF BUSINESS, YORK UNIVERSITY (JWILKINS@SCHULICH.YORKU.CA). HE WAS A CAREER PUBLIC SERVICE MANAGER IN CANADA

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John Wilkins

John Wilkins is Executive in Residence: Public Management at York University. He was a career public servant and diplomat. (jwilkins@schulich.yorku.ca)

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