Unlocking the Magic Middle: 3 Lessons for Activating Change

/ Christine Andrukonis

Spring fever has officially arrived. And with it, the restless urge to get things done, to be more efficient – to simply do more – is blooming as well. For our clients, the hustle of spring fever is alive and well – driving them to find ways to unlock the potential of the “magic middle” within their organizations, so they can do more. Which is why we’ve found ourselves in several conversations about activating this critical group to help carry the weight of big ambitions.

Leaders in the magic middle – why they matter

The “magic middle” is composed of the leaders and managers in an organization who are one to two levels up from the front-line employees and three or more levels down from the chief executive. Their potential is “magical” because they are in a unique and pivotal position to make things happen in a concrete and meaningful way. Because they are close to the day-to-day business, including the employees and the end consumer, they become the eyes and ears of the organization. And because they report to more senior leaders, they have a line of sight into the company strategy and vision. As such, they are often tasked with translating company initiatives to their teams in a way that inspires action and commitment.

But these managers are often conflicted, overworked or simply ill-equipped to lead change from their position in the middle of the organization. So many organizations are putting significant effort into coaching, communications and capability-building to unlock the potential of this group. Here are three lessons we’ve learned for activating their power:

1.    Invest in training
One tactic our clients find useful is our navigating change workshops. We offer two customizable change workshops for leaders:

The Notion Leading Change workshop helps leaders more effectively drive transformation and inspire action from the people on the front lines. We often target this workshop toward leaders at the magic middle but we have also customized this solution for executive teams when needed. In both cases, this workshop gives leaders a place to discuss the changes happening in their organization and explore their unique role in driving it. It also provides them with insights and tools needed to activate their teams.

The Notion Navigating Change workshop helps leaders understand their personal response toward change, what makes change stick, and provides a common language to discuss change and transformation with their employees.

2.     Make sure your efforts are working
We evaluate the success of our workshops based on three factors. After the workshops, we ask:

1. Are these leaders more aware of the critical role they play and their strengths and weaknesses in doing so?

2. Do these leaders understand how to drive change and transformation and know what tools they can use to be successful?

3. Are these leaders honing their strengths and putting these tools into practice, thereby inspiring a shift in awareness, mindset and action among their teams?

We’re happy to report that the answer to all three of these is consistently “yes!”

Here’s what leaders at Cornell and The Estée Lauder Companies had to say after a Notion workshop:

·      “We were so grateful for this opportunity to come together to discuss our challenges and opportunities for improvement. We learned real, practical things that we can do to make our own lives better and inspire our teams as well. Everyone should have to go through this workshop if they are expected to lead during a time of change.”

·       “…We rarely take time to sit back, reflect and strategize about how to stay fresh and lead differently. It was hard to find the time to step away for this workshop but I’m so glad we did, because I feel more confident and refreshed and ready to lead.”

3. Don’t underestimate your magic middle.

If you invest in their support and training, middle managers may surprise you with what they are willing and able to do as leaders. These critical stakeholders can be the force that makes your breaks your transformation efforts, and the sooner you activate them, the sooner you will engage the hearts and minds of the entire organization.