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5 Ways to Change Organizations from the Middle

5 Ways to Change Organizations from the Middle




I was recently speaking with a participant at a conference I was presenting at and he was telling me about the loss of productivity because of their use of an older, slow piece of software. Many times, when people are underperforming, it is because of the individuals’ behaviors but often the cause is lack of resources or the system. When the equipment or system is causing poor performance in a department, it is the manager’s role to do everything possible to influence the senior leadership to provide adequate equipment and / or alter the system.

We have heard the organizational change has to come from the top down. Yes, this may be true, but what about if you are in a middle management leadership position. Your employees are looking to you for leadership and to create any changes needed to support them in their roles.

Too often senior leaders are making decisions for the organization without direct knowledge of what is really needed and the impact it will have. In the LEAN LEADERSHIP model that Toyota made famous, organizations seek to bring their decision making to the bottom of the leadership hierarchy as often as possible. Tapping into the knowledge of frontline workers by asking them what they need to perform their jobs faster and better, organizations can save an enormous about of time and money.


As a workplace leader, your responsibility is to make it easier for your team to do their job. That’s not saying you need to make the job easy for them. You need to prevent or remove obstacles obstructing them in the process of their work. This could come in tangible ways, such as organizational expectations, systems, policies’ or procedures. It could also come in more tangible ways in the form of creating the optimal workstation, office environment, or resources for them to carry out their work to the best of their ability.

Leading Up QuoteHere are 5 ways you can effect change in an organization from a middle management position:

  1. Lead by Example: Leading and living the change you would like to see in the organization is essential for getting your team to support your movement. Leaders need to be setting an example that others want to follow.
  2. Do All You Can Within Your Power: For every door that closes, another one opens. Organizations often encounter resistance or a flat out NO from their employees when attempting to bring about change. This is where you need to become a master problem solver. In advocating for your team, leave no stone unturned. There are often many different solutions to one problem.
  3. Track the Numbers, Build Your Case: Numbers (calculated correctly) don’t lie. One of the easiest ways to gain the support of senior management is to show contrasting numbers on how something (i.e. a process, a piece of equipment or a policy) is or isn’t working. Presenting concrete numbers to plead your case can be powerful.
  4. Don’t Offer A Problem Without A Solution: People come to executives all day long with problems. They don’t want to hear about another problem. What they do want to hear is suggested solutions. When highlighting the issues you would like to see changed, be sure to come up with several solutions to the issues to make it easier for the senior leader to make a decision.
  5. Highlight The Financial Impact: Executives often boil their decisions down to dollars and cents. By highlighting how the change you are seeking will have a positive economic impact on the project or business, you can often cut through layers of red tape in getting your change approved. No one likes to be leaking money.

“Leading Up”

The type of leadership highlighted above is often referred to as “Leading Up”. It is a term used when describing middle managers that try to affect change from below the corporate hierarchy. If you find yourself frustrated and regularly trying to “Lead Up”, you may want to ask yourself if this position and this organization is a good fit for you. Ideally, you never have to ‘Lead Up” because you are surrounded by quality leaders above you.

In spite of the difficulties associated with affecting change, it’s important that middle managers not fall into complacency, especially if their own direct leader is less than dynamic or supportive.

In the end, the most important thing you can do is focus on what you can control. More often than not, workplace politics stems from frustrated employees complaining about things that are out of their control.

Action: At the end of each workday, ask yourself “Have I done all I can to support my team today?”

Until next week… Embrace the Adventure


Shawn Stratton is an international leadership and team building consultant, professional speaker, bestselling author and Ironman competitor. 

Click here to learn more about how Shawn can help your organization.

© 2016 Shawn Stratton. All rights reserved.