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      Bring back middle managers to boost business transformation

      by Susan Dumas

      Leadership and management

      The role of managers in organisations has changed over the last few years. Historically, organisations reduced the number of middle managers and moved towards flatter structures. But recent research highlights the vital role middle managers play during organisational change projects.  This blog will help you re-think the role of your middle managers and outline how to best support their efforts. 


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      From middle managers to self-managers

      It has been a trend in the last 10 years to reduce the layer of middle managers in an organisation and move toward flatter organisation structures. Self-management is now expected – after all, we are adults in the workplace; we should be able to communicate and figure out what needs to be done.

      As reported in the Financial Times, some organisations may have over-simplified the concept of self-management and flatter structures. Instead of making it easier for people to communicate, some have cut out the middle and directly assigned all staff to too few leaders at the top of the organisation. Self-management and flat organisations can and do work – just ask the employees of SquareSpaceBut most organisations of this type recruit for cultural fit and many flat organisations have been built from the ground up. 

      Middle manager role in change management

      It is never one-size-fits-all in business. Encouraging self-management and flat organisation structures will work for some organisations in some situations, but not for all. So, not all organisation are losing their middle managers – and for good reason. Research shows that middle management is key to implementing change.

      A study looking at 56 randomly selected companies which attempted to innovate and introduce major changes found that 68% failed. Among those companies that succeeded, the identifiable trend was that they all involved their mid-level managers – all of whom were at least two levels below the CEO.  Further, these managers weren’t just in charge of incremental changes – they were a major part of the entire transformation. This transformation involves three essential factors:

      • Alignment – align the managers’ values with the goals of your transformation.
      • Authorship – build cross-functional teams of managers who are responsible for turning the transformation’s plan into concrete steps.
      • Action – hold managers accountable for their actions: although their responsibilities during a transformation may be temporary, they must be taken just as seriously as any other responsibilities.

      Support staff through business transformation

      Every company is different, so there’s no one standard that makes sense for judging the success of change management plans. The degree to which the transformation helps your company reach its business goals is a great metric, but those goals are going to be different for every organisation. This is a common thread among companies that have succeeded at digital transformations. For example, StubHub’s mission was to help people buy tickets to shows and events in an increasingly paperless age. Their success became crippling, though – a major business risk to their future prospects – until CIO Marty Boos initiated a digital transformation that included adopting a hybrid cloud that would accommodate the majority of their customers who wanted to make purchases via their phones. However, Boos also knew that new technology would go to waste without experts. Instead of hiring from outside, he trained up some of his employees so that they had the skills needed to put the technology to use. Then external experts were brought in to support the teams, which were reorganised around the new initiatives.

      It makes sense that this would lead to success. Unfortunately, according to a Deloitte study, 92% of companies don’t think they are organised properly to succeed. Only 14% believe they know what this new organisation will require. Again, this is where clear communication becomes so powerful. Speak to your people early on and you’ll find that their feedback will help you make these necessary changes.

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      From employee experience to employee engagement

      Many companies overlook the people and employee engagement side of business and digital transformation. In recent years, business has focused on transforming customer experience (CX) – but, according to research, CX is no longer enough: employee experience (EX) is set to become the next priority for organisations. EX is the sum of all experiences an employee has in your organisation – from recruitment, onboarding, day-to-day working, opportunities for growth, to the final interaction they have with you. Many organisations are competing for talented staff on the basis of their reputation for EX. Some of the larger organisations make EX a part of their brand marketing, such is the competition for the most talented people. From perks such as gym membership to traditional employee engagement measures, there are many different aspects to EX.

      Some may think that better technology will automatically lead to better operations, but there is a danger of getting wrapped up in practical considerations like implementations and rollout dates. Instead, focus on your people by first obtaining buy-in from every level. You can do this by keeping the lines of communication open. When senior managers do this, their companies are eight times more likely to see a successful digital transformation.

      A digital transformation can also help you better leverage your employees in a number of different ways. If you improve your company’s talent development processes with better technologies, you’ll have an easier time improving performance. Social collaboration tools can streamline networking, allowing staff members to interact and cooperate with one another.

      How to support your managers

      The topic of digital transformation is an increasingly vital one for all business – regardless of size or industry. There is no shortage of ways in which digital transformation could expand your business or even radically improve it. Our intelligent learning experience platform, Percipio, has hundreds of videos, books and courses on supporting managers and leaders through these challenges. Help your managers and staff adapt to these changes and you’ll find that the changes are not only much easier to implement, but have a much greater impact too.


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