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Middle Managers Are Culture Carriers

Alexandria Joy - Friday, June 14, 2019

Changing a culture is hard. Unfortunately, most of the time it fails. Why is that so?

There's certainly no shortage of processes, steps, frameworks and models for creating culture change. Google "culture change" and a plethora of articles, books, consultants and advice will grace your screen.

Many of these include some great ideas and tactics, to change the 'culture'. Many of them mention people as recipients of the process but few really consider and articulate how to get people to want to change and to shift their habits, behaviours and practices in order to make the change stick.

“Maintaining an effective culture is so important that it, in fact, trumps even strategy.” – Howard Stevenson

The first and foremost ingredient in any culture change should always be the people. A culture afterall, is just the sum of all the people and their behaviours within a company. The person your people know, like and trust and want to hear from most is their direct line supervisor, their manager, or day to day leader. Your middle managers are your culture carriers.

Uncle Google suggests that a "culture carrier" is someone who has intimate knowledge of the company values and can have an intelligent discussion about why their company does what it does. They are ambassadors for their company and passionately work to promote the company values in their day to day dealings with clients and co-workers.

Just like an actual carrier homing pigeon, it doesn't matter how profound the message on the note strapped to their leg is, if it cant fly the distance and find it's way home the message won't land.

So how do you make this shift happen?

1 - Start by shifting what the CEO, Executive and Board believe

2 - Then provide training, awareness and support to shift what the Middle Managers believe

3 - Then shift how those managers develop, coach and empower every single team member.

I have been brought in by companies who have tried to implement culture change initiatives and failed because they failed to engage and inspire the heart of the company - the layer of middle managers. This layer of front line, supervisory managers is the key linchpin is the employment relationship, they are the holders of the psychological contract employees have with the company and therefore are the culture carriers.

If you fail to engage, train and utilise the combined strength of your middle manager, you've neglected the most powerful vehicle for change. Top down initiatives rarely gain sufficient traction and lack buy-in, bottom up initiatives often lack ongoing support and lose momentum, it's the middle-out initiatives that gain the most ground and create the tipping point of successful change.

The quality and mastery of managing and coaching at this level dictates the success of ongoing performance and development conversations between these managers and their direct reports. The more frequent and supportive the change conversations are between employee and manager, the higher the productivity, engagement, performance and trust of the whole organisation. A tipping point of critical mass is achieved at this level.

Changing culture truly comes from shifting to a more conversational and coaching style of management at this middle level and has been proven time and time again via research such as that conducted by the Gallup organisation, to be the most effective way forward. I would go one step further and say it is the only way forward.

For more information on what makes a masterful manager, download my 10 Commitments of Masterful Managers* here.


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