Can Transformation Happen from the Middle?

How can senior managers that are not part of top-management spark and drive transformation? As there are natural limitations, there is substantial power to those in charge of departments, business units, teams and projects.

Office building from outside with lots of windows

Imagine a Day in Your Company

Just think of your own firm, you and your colleagues discuss what should happen to move the company forward, that management didn't see those key developments and that you would expect a different, more clear and better strategy.

When someone asks you, what you as a senior person – maybe a leader of a department or business unit – could do, you may say that it's difficult because you have limited influence on many related topics (e.g. how you are organized or the compensation scheme) and at the same time your employees are confronting you directly with all the many inconsistencies and shortcomings of the firm—we could also call it reality.

Imagine the Ideal Situation

Based on our experience we see transformation mostly driven from the top – a CEO and his team set the vision for a different future, adjusting strategy to invest in specific topics and adaption on an organizational level to adjust the system in line with purpose and mission – from re-adapting culture, changing organizational set-up or creating new offerings and business models. Img

From there teams will work and lead in new ways and each individual adopts new mindsets and behaviors, so transformation happens.

The Challenge

Typically you are confronted with the following situation: your leadership expects specific results while your employees and teams expect changes in the whole organization. It is a privileged, yet painful position. You could call it the «the messy middle».


Imagine How You Can Drive Change

Now imagine the more likely situation where you have some impact on elements of the organization. Your key levers to drive change are:

  • The way you lead
  • The way teams work

By adapting your own leadership, you can influence a lot. Assume we want to become more customer-centered and need to be faster, more agile. As a leader you have plenty of possibilities to drive this – here are some example:

  • Get more outside perspectives into your teams – e.g. by inviting customers or experts to share their perspectives

  • Create the conditions for more collaboration between disciplines – staff projects in new ways

  • Make progress and learning visible – put the failure or learning of the week on a sheet and hang it in your office so everybody sees what others are learning

  • Introduce new rituals that enforce your strategy – e.g. create room for knowledge exchange so people learn from each other

  • Change meeting behaviors – e.g. focus more on personal feelings, hopes and fears to build an environment of trust and safety – crucial to do innovative work

  • Give up your fancy private office and use it as collaborative workspace where teams can work, create and discuss

As there are limitations, you as a leader or together as a group of leaders can influence the daily behavior of many people and thus drive real change.

By doing that, you also set an example for your senior leaders and may start a movement.

Just do it.

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