If you were in charge of your corporate culture and knew it needed fixing, would you fix it? Certainly anyone in charge of change management would want to say yes to this question, but as anyone who is actually in charge of corporate culture knows, it’s harder than it looks.
I like to think of corporate culture as the de facto unconscious mind of a group of people, because much like the unconscious of an individual, it’s hard to pin down and even harder to shift or change. We may want to stop loving ice cream, but our unconscious associations of ice cream with good times and physiological craving for the serotonin boost it gives us drives us to want it after every meal, even though it’s more calories than we need. We may want to stop gossiping about people who don’t seem to fit in, but we do it anyway, to bond with each other and because bonding with others just feels good, even though it can hurt others’ feelings.
The difficulty of shifting corporate culture is challenging when an organization finds that it needs to change “how we do things around here,” for example to reorganize or implement a new software system. As research by CEB last year shows, most companies need to initiate such large change management goals quite frequently. CEB and others have also shown that the key to making such changes “stick” is for middle management to adopt the changes. In essence, for large-scale change to take root and become the de facto way the organization works, it has to seep into the collective unconscious of middle management.
Too bad middle managers are so stressed out with so much change that sometimes they don’t change at all.
Middle Managers Are the Key to Change
It turns out that middle managers are the critical link in any organization, especially those undergoing change management. We tend to believe it’s the executives that drive things, but while they can make decisions and allocate resources, it’s the middle managers— those who are two to four levels below the execs on the org chart —who actually do the work to use the resources once allocated. And how they do it matters.
Any executive who’s ordered a change and turned away only to find things haven’t moved even an inch a week later knows the helpless feeling of needing to rely on the management tiers beneath her to know this is true.
Middle Managers Are Under Pressure And Get Less Leadership Development
But middle managers have it rough. They have requirements and edicts coming down on them from above, and problems and issues rising up to them from below, leading most of them to feel squeezed in the middle. This is why middle managers tend to be more stressed than either independent contributors or executives.
As an executive coach, I get to see this stress first hand, in both executives and middle managers. I see the toll it takes on their productivity and fulfilment. I can tell you that human stress is the same no matter who’s experiencing it. But here’s the catch: I see almost debilitating stress more often than not with middle managers. Executives are given permission to deal with their stress on the company’s nickle more than most middle managers.
From a company point of view this makes sense. Coaching, be it for stress relief, communication skills and productivity enhancement, in particular, is not cheap. Thus the expense is easier to justify for a few executives who have broad authority and impact than for a larger number of middle managers with more diffuse impact. The problem is that this leaves that oh-so-important tier of people in the middle unsupported in the ways that are most likely to help them manage change successfully.
And this is the catch for those in charge of change management, corporate culture or both. The people who are critical to successfully implementing change have the least capacity and company support to absorb and embed it into the culture.
There Is Hope!
This problem has dogged me since I began coaching, not only because of the impact coaching can have on the culture of an organization, but also because my clients in middle management seem to soak up the benefits of coaching so much more deeply than many executives. Executives often attribute their success to the way they lead today, while middle managers (especially millennials on the rise) are at a more malleable point in their leadership journey, more apt to experiment and change their personal styles. But it’s harder for these people who can make such an important impact on their organizations to access the services of an executive coach without company support, which most companies won’t fund.
But where we have an intention to solve a problem, we usually find a solution. I’ve been exploring strategies for group coaching to support change management over the past several years and have discovered some formulas for success. I recently had the opportunity to share some of this success in a webinar for Talent Connections, who kindly allowed me to post it on InPower Coaching.
To learn more about how group coaching can help middle managers, watch the webinar now!
To learn more about how to bring soft-skills and change management skills to your middle managers–affordably–explore our InPower Employee Impact program.