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Is change ever over? Do we need middle management?

July 7, 2015

Is there a way to help organizations move from a Change Transformations mindset to a Continuous Change mind set?

Traditionally, organizations implement large scale change events within their organization by spontaneously have an epiphany and transform every few years.

The frequency of these transformations has rapidly increased from once every 10 years in the 1980s to once every two years in the present.

Today, companies must sustain a continual change pace if they want to succeed in today’s ever-evolving environment. To achieve this, the organizations must prepare to be in a continually changing environment.

This means collaboration at all levels, from executives all the way down to their development teams (or IT teams). Continual change helps make the uncomfortable - comfortable.

When the executive level decides on an organizational change (e.g. going agile), the executives expect that once they announce it, it has happened. There is lag time between the decision and achievement. Agile is recommending to continually change. This explains why the change frequency has increased because we are moving towards a stream of continual change as the agile models that we’re instilling insist that we do.

In any agile framework (e.g. Scrum), we’ve given the development/IT teams a structure where they can work cross functionally, to be able to inspect, adapt and continually change. Executives have traditionally held their weekly meetings where they collaborate cross functionally as they have oversight of the entire business and pivot due to business conditions.

The corporation must be able to experiment, not just optimize. As change agents, we need to realize that the organization must continually change and set up a cross functioning structure for middle management.

What we failed to do is create a structure for the middle management layer. There is something special in the middle. We need to create a structure in which they collaborate and meet regularly in a cross-functioning way.

This provides two main benefits:

Organization is continually changing all together


Reduces communication distance from executives down to teams delivering product or service.

Image credit Freek Hermkens

The middle management is crucial to the success of the corporation because they understand how all the functions of the organizations work and can find improvements to be made. They provide an objective higher level view and are aware of both the development team and the upper management’s goals. We need to utilize middle management. Not eliminate them.

Agile has not provided a strong vision on what middle management does in an organizations. These managers (I prefer the term leaders) are champions and coaches. They are championing many of the changes and are the special glue between executive strategy and execution. They aren’t cogs in the organization’s wheel; they’re the ones that are going to help support/mentor/influence employees building a relationship, and drive change.

As companies grow, the distance from the people building the product and the customer increases. The people lose sight of the customer they are solving problems for. They lose empathy and context. Middle leadership helps fill in that gap by keeping their people in the mind space of the customer. While building a relationship and satisfying their people’s need for inclusion, development and growth.

Better congruence between strategy, short term goals and execution depends on having a regular cadence set up of cross-functioning middle leadership. The middle leadership and upper leadership must be working together to support the groups entering the change to achieve balance. Otherwise, there are two ways of working: the executives sticking to their traditional method and the development teams implementing the new method. The only way the organization will change is if the organization moves together and receive continually feedback from both parties.

Middle Leadership has a major role to play in change. We need to help give them the tools to work in their new environment. They need to transition from delegation to enabling, managing to coaching, project monitoring to relationship building with their people,  and translating work back to customer needs.

David Dame

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