How to engage your management for successful change

How to engage your management for successful change

Did you know that only 3% of transformations are successful when supervisors and frontline employees are not involved?

That is what a 2017 McKinsey study found. The study results align with our experience: Middle managers, are the link between different organizational levels that want to change and transform. Your middle managers are the bridge between strategic goals and operational reality, pushing for change to achieve the desired outcome. If this role is not recognized, not fulfilled, or not fully understood, 97% of transformations fail.

Operational leaders are the drivers of transformation

“Just get it done”

What type of organization we are referring to, is beside the point. Mid-level managers are critical success factors in any organizational transformation. Yet many managers complain about feeling unprepared and lacking necessary and key information and thus being ill-informed. They are expected to actively support, implement, represent, lead, and manage the change, but are often told to "just get it done.". Critical questions are often unwelcomed by those in authority and it is almost seen as mutiny, if done so. Asking for more information is not tolerated; instead, operational leaders are labeled as resistant to change if they voice their concerns.

Change leaders master leadership and management

The separation of management and leadership in our eyes is wrong because every leader has to manage, and every manager has to lead. Both disciplines are essential if you want to initiate a digital transformation or any other changes. Especially, in such changing phases and processes, every manager needs the ability to both lead and manage.

Changes initiated by top management are bound to fail if managers and frontline employees resist the changes requested, or if they do not understand the tasks or do not take them on. Similarly, change initiated by the basis, must also be supported by middle management to ensure sustainability.

Driving change

It is important, that you recognize that middle management must understand the strategic change as they are the ones to implement it on an operation level and are thus the real “digital change agents” who transform your company. Make sure to not leave them hanging but support them in becoming change leaders. When change fails, it is often attributed to employee resistance. However, they are the ones who often recognize the need for change but are left alone to deal with implementation and their corresponding problems. Instead, there is often a lack of understanding, context, trust, creativity, foresight, and problem-solving skills.

The combination and interplay of soft and hard skills

When it comes to change, it is popular to primarily talk about the soft factors, the soft skills. This includes topics such as motivation and communication culture. However, it is extremely difficult and a lengthy process to change attitudes and values because they are deeply rooted in organizations and people.

Let us get this straight: Less fashionable, but essential, are the hard factors. These have three key advantages:

  1. As an organization, you can measure them directly or indirectly.
  2. You can easily communicate them inside and outside the organization.
  3. You can influence these variables relatively quickly.

Examples of hard skills are the time required to execute processes, the number of employees or material resources required, and the financial results to be achieved.

Here, too, we experience: Digital transformations and changes fail if you, as an organization neglect the hard skills within your employees.

Our conclusion:

Our recommendation is to first clarify, define and communicate the hard skills needed in change processes. Then, in the second step, the soft skills are required, especially in dealing with your middle management, which masters strategy and implementation. This is the more difficult discipline, requiring patience, perseverance and understanding. Take the time to allow and answer critical questions and address concerns if you want your change to be successful. And do not forget: your operational leaders are the drivers of transformation.