Middle-level Managers as Change Agents

BY ICFAI - 2017-01-13

The role of middle manager is crucial in managing change. They act as a connecting link between the top management’s aspiration’s and strategic intent, market realities, and the capabilities of the work force.

At fort wayne, Indian (USA), the electrical motors business of general electric had been languishing with zero percent return on investment. But with some remarkable initiatives taken by middle managers at this unit, the returns reached 25% in a few years. How did they do it? The doses of market reality infused by these middle-level managers stimulated employee innovation, and higher levels of productivity. “Quick market intelligence” was the key word. To gain information about the market, managers interacted with customers frequently, and did competitor product analysis. Information relating to the marketplace was shared during Monday morning meetings. This information helped the business unit to adapt to change in the marketplace (in terms of customer preferences) and competitor practices.

Middle level managers can bring about change in the actions of people around them. They influence the actions of people reporting to them as well as the people who they report to. At Texas Commerce Bank (TCB) the top management led by the CEO envisioned a complete redesign of processes. The visible objective of the change effort was to reduce cost by $50 million. The middle-level managers felt that the mission was uninspiring. The mission did not appeal to employees at lower levels also. Just as the change initiative was about to fail, a group of middle-level managers suggested a new objective to the top management. The objective was to “eliminate what annoys customers and employees.” This caught the imagination of thousands of employees. Finally, the change effort went far beyond meeting the financial objective.

The change effort at TCB still continues, based on the partnership between CEO Marc Shapiro and a group of middle-level managers. The relationship is remarkable because it went beyond rigid vertical hierarchies and informal networks. As Shapiro himself has admitted, without the initiative and regular feedback from the middle-level managers, he might have ignored the importance of going beyond cost reduction.

In spite of a great team at the top management level, a major change initiative will never succeed unless there is dedicated cadre of middle-level managers signed up for the change.

In case you missed it, my last post was Consultants as Change Agents

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Acknowledgement: Leadership & Change Management book by ICFAI

Gemba Kaizen