The problem is in the middle, isn’t it?

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At a number of meetings over the last few weeks, months and in fact years, when people talk about change or anything new, one issue or barrier always comes up…can you guess?

No, it isn’t IT, in fact the most common referred to barrier is –  Middle Managers!

Now, I’m not entirely clear what group of people this actually refers to, other than it could and probably does include anyone who isn’t actually a Senior Manager, Head of Service, Officer and administrators etc…

On that basis I’m probably a middle manager and therefore in a category of people who are considered a barrier. I’ve finally arrived in localgov :)

Now whilst most people acknowledge this term and people nod when it is referred to as clearly middle managers are blocks to lots of interesting and innovative things, it does concern me that we can’t actually specify the real barriers to things.

I’m sure there are many managers, in the middle, or at senior levels, who are barriers in many organisations. But what I’d like to suggest is that what we really need to acknowledge is that the biggest barrier to change is in fact – Mediocre Managers.

They can be anywhere and have some common traits for example:

  • They fear empowering their staff or they might look incompetent at their own job
  • They micro-manage every task
  • They see “working from home” as a day off work and hold the view that unless you’re in the office at your desk, you aren’t working – oh and you have to sit in rows….”shudders”
  • Blame lies everywhere else but with themselves

I’m sure you could suggest a few more common traits, however my question is how do you really change people?  I also have to ask myself how many of the above do I demonstrate to my team…hopefully none of them? – I doubt anyone in my team will respond to this as I ban them from reading my blog :)

It isn’t going to help anyone by laying the blame on a group of managers, who aren’t actually the problem when the real problem is organisational and sector wide in that we clearly have universal HR processes that promote and reward mediocre behaviours and foster controlling cultures.

The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country. 
Abraham Lincoln

So a plea really…whilst a large proportion of those who obstruct actually reside in the middle of a hierarchy, we need to tackle the fundamental organisational and wider enterprise design processes so we reward and foster more creative and innovative behaviours and not point at individual people as they behave like they do because cultures and processes allow them to.