Middle Managers & Change

Live blogging with Andy Lancaster opening the session on Developing Proactive Middle Managers who Adapt to Change.

Middle management is an incredibly challenging situation – as a new manager there’s so much to learn and change. How seriously do we take this when promoting, recruiting and developing? Not seriously enough when 35% haven’t had training for their role and 49% feel they’re under excessive pressure every week.

What it’s like for middle managers – they’re tasked with building a bridge and while they’re doing it the world around them changes but nobody tells you until you’ve built the bridge!


We’re expecting managers to engage their teams but they’re not being engaged by their senior leaders – the reality is we’re structured hierarchically so what happens above flows down. Where are the role models of how line management should be?

Now Nick Hindley from PPD to talk about changing people. PPD run clinical trials for pharma orgs with project managers in PPD running the activity – it’s them who the talk will focus on.

They wanted to develop leadership in the PMs because they were losing their best people which clients weren’t impressed with! This needed fixing but they also needed development to be able to lead others through a dotted line structure, not line management.

Identified the skill set required to move people from operational to strategic leadership.

What does strategic leadership mean? What would they actually be doing that’s different to today – stakeholder management, strategic partnership……eventually got leaders to a level of specific detail of what they’d be doing. My view – it’s soooooo important in L&D and HR to not be afraid to keep challenging, coaching, asking for that granularity to deliver solutions that are right for the business. One man’s strategic is another man’s operational!

They created core principles to the work including using Kirkpatrick Evaluation to check progress throughout duration of activity, and activities involving the Project Manager’s line manager – not just so they know what’s going on for their team but also so they pick up some learning for themselves along the way too!

Observation by Nick that the PMs felt uncomfortable with being considered Top Talent. This reminds me of the story about ‘spotting talent’ in school – ‘these are your most promising students’ – the students get treated differently by everyone around them, believe in themselves differently, they succeed.
‘How did you know they were promising!’
‘I didn’t, I just picked them at random’…..

Programme modules –
Influencing as a leader
Client perspectives
Partnership mindset
Strategic direction

Only 2 face to face sessions with others over webex to keep costs down.

Return on investment measures – reduced turnover including those who aren’t in the programme (ripple effect) – turned into actual cost of recruitment savings minus programme costs; numbers of people from programme being promoted; internal recognition awards.

Plus qualitative insights from delegates – these can be valuable – how much do you find these stories influence your senior leaders when making decisions? I wonder how much they actually influence vs how much people like to think they influence – dominant belief in work that we need the numbers! Or maybe we do just need both – we have both emotional and rational brains!

Key point for Andy Lancaster – stepping into the virtual learning space which is going to be increasingly important in the world of L&D.

And he’s asked the audience to talk about what their key learnings are. A nice change from yesterday’s sessions where it was talk followed by Q&As. Actually giving people a moment to think about what they’ve heard and begin to process it into something meaningful for them – great stuff!

Now Andy’s talking about the fact our change programmes are based on a model of bereavement – shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

What if we switch this and move to possibilities – we need to give people time to absorb, let people have optimistic time with others, make it ok to have fun! Take change away from process and move to people.

Andy used to work in an org that was about drug rehab, some people with £400 heroin addictions. He saw people go through and graduate from rehab, leaving to start new lives, positively emotional times where people got back a person in their lives who’d been lost for so long.

A big element of this success was collaboration (take a look at Jane Hart collaborative social learning). This is becoming a key part of learning and should be a norm in change management.

This is the model of drug rehab –


Precontemplation – person intends to make change but isn’t sure, do I/we really need to change. How could an action learning set help here to ask what’s going on, what needs to change, why, why not

Contemplation – what are the pros & cons, does it fit with our values, what would it look and feel like if this change happened? Peer-peer conversations can create great pictures of that future

Preparation – what makes it manageable, what are the barriers, what resources do we need?

Action – how do we actually do this and make it happen? What are the steps, support needed, communication?

Maintenance – how do we reward new behaviour, celebrate and enjoy progress, what are our future dreams?

Relapse – relapse! What isn’t working, let’s check and see what needs to be adjusted, what needs energy?

If we work this through collaboratively and involve middle managers, it’s got to be so much easier to get change happening more successfully.

I wonder how you’d make change happen in your org this way? What are the barriers to middle managers being involved? What can be done to start to change that culture first?

How does this link through to creating a culture of
engaging & resilient leaders;
happiness at work;
an attitude that imperfection is an important part of being human, and of being a leader, and by being honest we can learn together


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s