While working on a series of articles for a client (<— #braggingmoment), I’ve stumbled across an intriguing question: who’s actually in charge of keeping an eye on middle management and their needs and role in digital transformation?

Bam! You’re now a coach.

Flat hierarchies, agile teams and distributed accountability – the new world of organising information and knowledge work. Leadership doesn’t get tired of preaching a “new togetherness” and how the own network of expertise and experience will blow the competition out of the water. More and more employees ask for flexibility and freedom to do their job whenever, from wherever and with whatever – and that’s not exclusive to Digital Natives or Generation Z.

The middle (or operations) management, however, only finds itself in foot notes and at the bottom of a bullet point list. From there they learn that task based management is out of date and how too much control & conquer will suffocate creativity and corporate culture.

They find their new roles described as coaches and guides to their teams. Most of the time description ends on exactly that level, though. But what does it mean to be a coach? What will they be guiding people through and how will good guidance be determined?

Change management must not be exclusive to the employee level

To give change a positive and long lasting effect on corporate and collaboration culture, middle managers need help with their role transformation as well. It’s not fair to expect that they just adapt to a completely upside-down environment and adjust their style of working and managing based on gut feeling and best effort.

No matter how non-hierarchical or flat a company structure is, there will always be a certain group of people who are accountable for overseeing performance and results. Leadership cannot be at the stern and at the same time have an eye on every functional crew member of the ship. At least that’s my humble opinion, and I am aware that there are a lot of other voices out there.

Middle management has to be part of the active change management in an organisation –  in the role of recipient and as shapers.

  • Their WHY needs to be adjusted to the new system and provide them with motivation and means to transform their purpose
  • Their HOW might require a change of skills and perspective, when it comes to rather leading than managing people and objectives – even if they are very operational
  • Their WHAT will probably be determined in a more dialogue fashion – with both, leadership and employees

Additional thoughts on this, anyone?


*** Promotion ***

Interested in my checklist for change? Check out my recent blog post or go directly to the Digital Sherpa checklist here


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