Reflections from Middle Management – Approaching Change Management

Matt Havens Change Management Speaker

I am no Steve Jobs. I am no Jack Welch. I’m not even sure I’m a good leader. (Nah, just kidding. I think I’m pretty neat) But I realized a few years ago my dreams of becoming a Corporate CEO were probably a pipe-dream and may not come to fruition. After all, while there are certainly some pretty nice perks to those positions (material things, impact, etc.), I’m not even sure it’s something I would want to do at this point in my life. As CEO, people would undoubtedly call me “Sir” and “Mr. Havens” a lot which feels waayyyy too formal for my personality and people would forcedly laugh when I make jokes because they feel like it’s a requirement to be in my presence. Oh, and I feel like CEOs sit in a lot of meetings with their hands folded or biting on the ends of their glasses while everyone in the room stares at them, hanging on their every word. Again, waaayyy too formal for me.

But when we talk about leadership in today’s world, it’s these types of leaders we often cite or look to emulate. Make no mistake – there’s a lot to learn from the Steve Jobs of the world. But realistically, many of us are just trying to get a little better today than we were yesterday. And many of us are looking to advance in our careers, but not necessarily to astronomical levels in titles or responsibility. Sometimes we just want to be a better first-line leader or aspire to a middle-management level. Sometimes we just want to be a better coach to those we mentor. It’s with that in mind where Reflections from Middle Management is born. There are some amazing leadership lessons to learn which may (or may not) get you to the C-suite at your organization, but they will definitely make you a stronger leader, more marketable, and perhaps stand out from others who might aspire for those positions as well. Today I’ll highlight one of these lessons, but in future articles, I’ll continue to highlight more and more examples and insight to help you in your leadership journey.

For today, let’s talk a little about how you approach Change Management! Ah yes, change management. The corporate buzzword created to remind people sometimes things do not always remain exactly the same as they were yesterday. And let’s be honest – thank God things don’t remain the same forever! I personally like cell-phones, flexible work arrangements, and the internet. If things didn’t change around here, then we’d still be rotary dialing Frank in Accounting while the 5pm dismissal bell rang in the office. And how would we ever find out how fast a cheetah can run without the internet? I’d have to go to the library? What’s that?

Ugh. Sorry. I digress. But yes, change management is a necessary reality of life today and increasingly important as you move throughout your career. As you move up the ladder or gain more responsibility, how you react to changes in your environment will have a profound impact on the people you lead.

So as you reflect on change management and how you approach it, ask yourself this question: Am I speaking for the change or about the change? A common theme in senior leadership is the ability to speak FOR a change and not simply ABOUT it. Conversely, it’s extremely common to see some leaders speak ABOUT the change, but stop short of championing it. It sounds like this:

  • “Hey everyone, we need to adjust some work schedules next week. Upper management just told us about it so let’s try to make it work. Thanks for your flexibility.”

That statement is fairly harmless. It’s not evil by any means. But it’s also not taking ownership of the change. It’s putting up a barrier between the decision makers (in this case upper management) and the people impacted by the change (in this case your team). And you can mix and match the scenario to apply more directly to your work environment, but it’s easy to pick out these scenarios of talking ABOUT a change because you’ll hear terms like “leadership informed us” or “a decision was made” as example.

As you move up the leadership ranks, you will be increasingly challenged to speak for the change. You have to own the decision and it’s impacts, so start now by looking for opportunities to champion the change experiences coming your way. Here are two very simple ways to practice with your next change effort:

  • Use the word “we” – “We are making a change….” Or “We’ve updated a process and here’s what I’d like us to focus on going forward.” Don’t let yourself put up a wall between a decision and the people you lead.
  • Talk about the why behind the change – More and more people can support a message when they recognize the why behind a decision. They might still struggle with aspects, but you’ll be farther along if you focus on the why and benefits of the effort.

Next time we’ll highlight some ideas around broad leadership impacts beyond your immediate team, but I hope you enjoyed the first installment of Reflections in Middle Management. If you have your own ideas on what it takes to get to the next level, I’d love to hear them. Find me on Twitter at @HavensSpeaking or send me a note anytime.  Thanks for reading!

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