Starting Change in the Middle

As a change agent you know the difficulty of Top-Down change. Senior executives, like the rest of us, see things from their own perspective. They  may define desired results and how to go about getting desired results very differently than you do, which typically blocks you from making needed progress.

Bottom-UP efforts are equally challenging. Even if teams do change, there is always a concern that the behaviors and decisions of managers and senior leadership will undermine those efforts. Other blocking forces, such as the dependency on systems and structures that limit the team and cannot change due to their widespread use in the organization, add additional layers of difficulty.

In a way, starting from the middle (working with a relatively autonomous unit) is the easiest way to go. It’s like finding an island that can be the jumping board for additional successful implantation of change in the organization.  But be warned: just like the other two options, starting change in the middle has it’s obstacles. To successfully execute a change by starting it in the middle:

  • Make sure the results of the change are defined in measurable ways so that you can later generate support for the change. The support of senior leadership does not have to be the first thing you do, but most significant changes will not last without it.
  • Increase the likelihood of success by taking into account not only the change itself but the possible interactions the team will have with other departments and functions in the organization. Preparing the team to respond to the lack of change around them effectively makes the team more successful.
  • Focus on what the team can do on it’s own initially, to increase business goals. Many change efforts either focus on the goals of the team itself (which at times are not aligned with the organizational goals) or focus on a desired result that is limited by people outside of the team. The most important component of starting in the middle is success.

Which team would you pick to start change with? What would you focus on?

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