Middle Managers are like Addicts…

This weeks experiment for softwehr and I is to write about Middle Managers.  This topic generates a LOT of good discussion.  In fact, I’ve already talked about it here.  I’m actively experimenting with this group daily, using Dan Mezick’s book: The Culture Game, trying to find some keys.  I’ll tell you up front I’m failing a lot.  My failure (I like to call it learning) is due in large part to the fact I’m trying to instill some new habits and responses that aren’t instinctive yet.

What is it I’m trying to do?  I’m trying to get people in the middle layer to change the way they view and execute work.  This group is tough.  What’s the value proposition for them?  It’s easy for teams: you will be empowered and valued for the skills and creativity you bring.  For Executives, you are going see more value being delivered, a reduction in defects and operational costs, improvement in associate morale and MORE revenue!  What’s not to love right?  For Middle Managers….you guys get to???  So, here’s what I am trying so far:

  1. Everyone has a choice to opt in or out.  I am focusing on those who are opting in. Normally, I focus on the other set thinking that’s where the problem is.  It isn’t.   There is absolutely nothing to be gained by trying to convince them.  By focusing on those who are opting in, I am creating viruses.
  2. I am asking if the purpose I believe we are striving for is aligned with their thinking.  Aligning to a common goal/purpose is essential.  Often, we are not.  However, I have found that stating my “own” purpose gets them thinking AND I find some converts.  How do I know this?  The converts refer back to it throughout the meeting and ask me questions following the meeting to understand what I was trying to get at.  They want to learn.  Virus created.
  3. I am taking every possible opportunity to teach…what are elements of high-performing teams, why is the environment essential and all kinds of other interesting systemic cultural impediments.  Sometimes, I’ll get a polite nod and murmur other times, I see a laser-like focus appear in their eyes and they ask “What are we doing to solve that?”.  HA!  Got ya.  I now have a virus AND someone to go and tackle the impediment.
  4. Every day I set out to do something “brave”.  Sometimes, the brave thing is any ONE of the items above.  Other times, it’s bolder.  The worst thing that happens?  I fail/learn.

Notice there’s nothing on here I’m forcing on anyone.  Middle managers are like addicts.  They have to recognize and accept their problem before they seek treatment.  My role isn’t to treat them.  It’s to help them be aware and find their value proposition in this change.  I help them be aware by doing the things above and some more. Eventually, more people attain awareness and results WILL follow (I have to have faith here).  Those who haven’t yet experienced it start asking those who have “How did you do that?” and the virus spreads.

The middle layer can make or break your transformation.  It’s a constituency we must pay attention to.  They’re the most difficult ones to reach.  They are afraid.  Seriously, download Dan’s book on your Kindle and read it a couple times.  As you’re reading start trying.  You have to start small to make it big.  Just like a virus.

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