Middle Managers Driving Change in Organization

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Executive Summary

The current paper provides an analysis of the problem of implementation of change by middle managers in an organization, and the associated difficulties. The paper is based on a literature review. It was discovered that companies are required to change extremely fast to survive in the market and that it ultimately falls to middle managers, as mediators between the leaders and the workers in an enterprise, to implement changes. Some difficulties (such as resistance to change or poor communication) might be encountered, but managers have to motivate employees, as well as teach them how to use innovations.

A general plan for the implementation of change is supplied. First, managers need to be trained and “empowered” so that they fully comprehend the potential of the innovations. Then, the employees’ views should be assessed, and they should be prepared (“unfrozen”) to accept change. Next, the workers should be taught to use new techniques (“moved”). Finally, the new process should become a part of the routine of an employee’s working day (“refrozen”). Also, importantly, during the entire time the project is being implemented, continuously assessing its effects is recommended. Several further recommendations on implementing change are provided, as well.


Background and Context

In the modern world of business, companies have to engage in stiff competition to survive in the market. To do that effectively in the rapidly developing world of technology and communications, organizations need to be able to keep up with the pace at which the world is moving forward today. Thus, it is paramount for enterprises to make sure that they use not only the newest technologies but also modern management techniques, to make different parts of the business work together in an efficacious manner, as well as to ensure the efficiency of the company’s employees.

As a consequence, companies must be able to implement innovations and quickly assimilate the latest achievements in the spheres of both technology and management, to increase the output of the business. Therefore, it might be possible to state that the implementation of change has nowadays become one of the critical issues that businesses need to address. That said, effective methods of introducing innovation into enterprises must be utilized.

Of course, the burden of implementation of change often falls on middle managers. These, being a link between the leadership of the company and its workers, have to communicate the new rules to employees, make sure that the employees understand them properly, or, at least, not worse than certain standards allow, and motivate those workers to efficaciously use the fruits of this change to the best advantage for the company.

Importantly, a variety of barriers to the successful implementation of innovations exist, including the resistance to change that employees may demonstrate, difficulties pertaining to measuring the results of the implementation of the innovation, the need to manage new structures that emerge as a result of the change, and so on. Therefore, it is crucial to provide a framework that might be utilized for implementing change in an organization, and which provides the middle managers with a plan for actions that they need to undertake if the change is to be introduced successfully.

Project Aim

The current project aims to provide an analysis of the role that is played by middle managers (such as managers and/or team leaders) in a wide array of organizations when it comes to the implementation of change.

Project Scope

To create this paper, a review of the literature will be conducted. More specifically, several peer-reviewed journal articles and some articles from other sources, related to the topic, will be found and analyzed.

This analysis is of paramount importance because

  1. the changing world of business demands that organizations implement changes rapidly if they are to survive in the market because the marketplace is highly competitive; and because
  2. the middle managers often play a mediating role in an organization, serving as the joining link between the company’s leadership and its workforce.

This means that a decision pertaining to innovation and change in a business in one of these “parts” of it will usually be transferred to the other “part” by using the middle managers as messengers or implementers of this change.

The project will consist of four major parts:

  1. an introduction,
  2. a discussion of methods,
  3. an analysis of the literature,
  4. and a final part comprised of an implementation plan for methods of introducing change in an organization, more general recommendations, and
  5. a conclusion.

Also, an executive summary will be provided.

Project Objectives

The intended outcomes of the current project include finding data on some pre-identified themes related to the implementation of change in organizations and the role of managers within the process (namely, the speed of change in an organization, resistance to change, best practices for implementing change, the effects of change implementation on future strategies, how improvement can be measured, ownership, and communication issues). The discovered information about these themes will be provided in the literature review section.

It is also expected to create a plan for implementing change in an organization, and middle managers will play a key role in that plan. The plan will be accompanied by some practical recommendations, which will provide additional advice that will come in handy when implementing that plan. Also, conclusions drawn from the reviewed literature will be supplied after the recommendations subsection.

Project Limitations

It is important to point out some limitations inherent in the current project. First, the study only utilizes secondary data gathered from the literature review; no primary data is gathered or analyzed. Second, the paper provides several recommendations and an implementation plan, but these are created for a general case, which means that its use will require this plan to be adjusted to the specific conditions in which it will be implemented.



The current paper is based on a review of literature about the topic of the implementation of change by middle managers in an organizational setting. The materials selected for this work are mainly peer-reviewed, scientific journal articles, published no later than 2006. Specifically, ten such articles were selected for the paper. Also, two articles from the Harvard Business Review and one web page, describing a tool for measuring the change in an organization, were used.

To find the literature, the university library was utilized. The literature was read and thoroughly analyzed to find information related to certain topics, the articles that contained such information were selected, and the obtained data were analyzed and studied. Some gaps and points have been identified, where the information contained in the literature is lacking.

The paper is aimed at creating an implementation plan that could be put into action by a company as a tool for introducing organizational change. The plan is provided in the last section, along with several more detailed recommendations for its utilization in an organization.

Types of data

This paper is based on secondary data, that is, data obtained from the research literature. Also, a survey that can be used in further studies related to this topic can be found in the paper; refer to the next section and Appendix 1.

A Survey for a Future Study

A survey, aimed at assessing the attitudes of employees of a company toward organizational change in their workplace, is provided in Appendix 1. To create the study, the author partially utilized several ideas supplied by Năstase, Giuclea, and Bold (2012). The provided questionnaire consists of three parts: The first assesses the respondent’s perceptions of the need for change, which might be called the degree of conservativeness or being pro-change; the second estimate the participant’s perceptions of top-down changes in the organization; and the third part measures whether the respondent can see bottom-up change as occurring in the organization.

This survey can be employed to assess whether employees of a business feel that their company is changing or, on the contrary, requires more change. The first part of the survey might allow for dividing the sample into the conservative and pro-change groups.

Analysis of the Literature

Speed of Change

According to Miles (2013), the speed at which change should be implemented is very high. It is set by the global pace of change and development. To survive in a highly competitive market, companies are forced to promote constant change; this is especially true of change in the field of technology (Militaru & Zanfir 2016). Keenan et al. (2015, para. 1) assert that “change is the status quo.” Therefore, managers need to help the employees learn and adapt to change; however, they fail to accomplish the task of teaching workers (Miles 2013).

Resistance to Change

The process of change in organizations might face a variety of obstacles. If change is implemented by middle managers, resistance might come from the staff, or sometimes from the leadership of the company. If change comes from the “top” or the “bottom” of an organization, resistance usually comes from the “opposing” side.

When discrepancies occur between the theoretical model of change and the real process of change that is taking place in an organization, the agents of change can employ two different, main types of strategies: reflection and action (Van de Ven & Sun 2011). Action entails addressing the barriers to change, for instance, working with one’s staff and explaining to those who resist it, that change is of the essence of the organization is to move forward. In contrast, reflection involves revising one’s theoretical models of change to better adjust this model to the nuances of one’s organization, change its implementation plan, or consider some alternatives to the currently used model of change (Van de Ven & Sun 2011).

Best Practices

The literature shows that to ensure an efficacious implementation of change, middle managers must take an active part in it, regardless of where the change comes from—either from the top of the organization as a result of its leaders’ decision, or from the bottom as a need or initiative of employees (Barratt‐Pugh, Bahn & Gakere, 2013). Middle managers, as the mediators between the leaders and workers, should be the first targets of innovations, not just “implementers” or “messengers” (Conway & Monks 2011, p. 192).

When change comes from the top, managers need to teach personnel to efficaciously use the fruits of innovation (Miles 2013). It might be effective to use the model of “unfreezing, moving, and refreezing” when implementing change (Chew, Cheng & Petrovic-Lazarevic 2006, p. 60).

In the process of change, depending on the situation, managers might need to employ a tool for decision-making; the Cynefin framework (see Appendix 2) is one such tool (Snowden & Boone 2007).

The Effect on Future Strategy

The middle managers play the role of mediators between the leadership of a company (its strategic level) and its employees (its operational level) (Conway & Monks 2011, p. 191). Therefore, it becomes the responsibility of the middle manager to ensure that the employees’ development and the changes in the organization will help the workers to pursue the company’s strategic goals, simultaneously informing the leadership about the situation in the company and providing feedback from the workers that might be relevant about potential changes in the business’ future strategy. Thus, managers need to ensure that both the “lower” part of the company works according to the strategy and that its “upper” part provides a strategy that is adequate for the current situation.

Measuring Improvement

Change is crucial if an organization is to survive and progress, but it needs to be effective and lead to the desired goals. Nevertheless, measuring change and assessing the results of a dynamic process is difficult; using specifically designed tools is recommended for measuring its effects, but there is a dearth of such tools (Keenan et al. 2015). Keenan et al. (2015) offer one such tool, DICE, which stands for Duration, Integrity of team performance, Commitment, and Effort. The tool is available online (“DICE” n.d.), and can be used to assess the effects of innovations on an organization.


When the need to implement change arises, middle managers tend to be overloaded with new duties and responsibilities; thus, creating the role of a change manager who is specifically responsible for driving change is recommended (Conway & Monks 2011).

According to Pollack and Algeo (2016), project managers and change managers have a varying degree of influence on factors that contribute to the success of organizations. See Appendix 3 for more details. Managers specifically responsible for implementing change will contribute considerably to helping the employees adapt to change, providing them with instruction and training, reconciling different views, and making sure that the communication and feedback within the process are efficacious.

Simultaneously, project managers have a greater influence when it comes to providing resources and ensuring that the plan of a project is not outdated, the schedule is correct, and so on (Pollack & Algeo 2016). Therefore, change managers should focus on implementing change, whereas project managers ought to concentrate on ensuring that current projects are adequately aligned with the innovations being implemented.


Managers serve as mediators between the “top” and “bottom” layers of the organization’s personnel (Conway & Monks 2011), and they should communicate the views of the two layers to one another. When change comes from the “top,” managers need to ensure that the employees are thoroughly informed of what is happening, and are prepared for the innovations. Managers also need to relieve employees’ stress, and to make sure that no groups of workers feel that they did not receive their share of benefits related to the innovations. When initiatives to innovate come from the “bottom,” managers need to understand what is proposed, and efficaciously communicate it to the organization’s leaders.


Therefore, middle managers play a crucial role in implementing change, serving as mediators between the company’s leadership and employees; consequently, they should be the first targets of change (Conway & Monks 2011). It was found out that managers need to play the role of educator, but often perform poorly while doing so; this might be even less surprising if one considers their overloads (Conway & Monks 2011; Miles 2013). Thus, the themes that emerged included the role of a manager as a teacher and the management of the manager’s overload. Also, the literature, on the whole, lacks effective methods to assess change (Keenan et al. 2015), which corroborates the need to develop and test such tools.

Implementation Plan, Recommendations, and Conclusions

Implementation Plan

Thus, it might be possible to utilize the following plan to implement innovation in an organization:

  1. Managers are made “the first targets of empowerment and involvement practices” of innovation (Conway & Monks 2011, p. 192), and are provided explanations that cover all the nuances of it. Change managers might be involved.
  2. The perceptions of employees are assessed, and the workers should be prepared for the innovation (“unfrozen”); managers need to discuss the details of the changes and teach the employees how to act in the new situation. (The teaching process will last almost until the process becomes routine.)
  3. The managers work with the staff, continuously assess the outcome of the implementation of change using the DICE tool (“DICE” n.d.), and in the case of problems, make the appropriate adjustments accordingly. The employees learn to work in the new conditions (“moved”). Resistance to change is overcome by using the “reflection-action” model, as well as by collective discussions within and among teams.
  4. The workers are gradually accustomed to the new process, and it becomes a usual activity for them, turning into a routine (“refreeze”).


Thus, several recommendations for implementing change in organizations might be given. When promoting innovations from the “top” to the “bottom,” the leadership of the company should first involve the managers in the process of innovation, so that they fully realize all the nuances of the modification and its advantages and benefits, but also its potential drawbacks. This will permit them to become effective agents of change in the organization.

Before starting the implementation of change, the perceptions and views of employees need to be assessed, to evaluate how their possible resistance to the advancements might be counteracted; the person needs to be “unfrozen,” that is, preliminarily prepared to accept change.

The managers should also learn how to teach the staff the new skills that are required for the efficacious use of the advancements, and provide them with the necessary training, ensuring that the workers meet the required level of qualification.

Managers need to employ effective tools of communication. Authors offer an array of tools that can be employed for this purpose. For instance, Burrus (2010) proposes radically changing the structure of a company and having workers from small teams that perform a variety of functions, manage themselves, and collaborate. Thus, communication takes on a completely new shape. However, such a type of communication is a major change on its own, and before it can be used, other instruments need to be considered.

For instance, Linke and Zerfass (2011) offer a communication tool according to which employees need to be guided via different stages of identification with an innovation culture, and targeted according to the stage they are currently in; each stage should be identified with a particular step of innovation implementation and aimed at moving an employee toward change. These stages allow for division into groups, as well as group meetings; also, general staff meetings should take place, and communication ought to correspond to the needs of the participants (Linke & Zerfass 2011).

It may be effective for HR managers to oversee the staff on the whole and provide general training, while project managers work with their subordinates in teams, to find out how their new skills may be used in a concrete given project. This is the stage of motion at which workers acquire new skills and adjust to changes.

Also, the reaction of workers should be continuously monitored; managers ought to provide relief for workers and help them to address the additional stress related to the implementation of innovations, as well as to overcome their resistance to change. While doing that, managers should combine reflection and action, that is, not simply act (e.g., insist on the implementation of innovation), but also reflect upon their actions, considering the situation of every employee and adjusting how the change is implemented by a concrete situation.

The effectiveness of the innovations and of how they are introduced in an organization should be continuously monitored; a possible tool for this purpose is DICE, which is available online (“DICE” n.d.) and can be used by a manager of virtually any company. Finally, the innovations should be “frozen,” that is, turned into a routine process.

To assess the existing situation and make a decision, the Cynefin decision-making framework (Snowden & Boone 2007) can be employed. The manager should assess the situation and, depending upon how ordered and known (or chaotic and unknown) it is, chooses a course of action.

It should also be recommended that an organization does not solely put the burden of implementing innovation on the managers and project managers in addition to their usual duties; these people often may become subject to significant stress. Creating the post of an innovation manager, who would be primarily responsible for driving change, might be a useful practice, especially for large enough organizations.


Therefore, the literature reveals that the managers’ role in implementing change is crucial, for they mediate the relationships between the organization’s leadership and employees, and serve as the communicators of the company’s strategy from the business’s “top” to its “bottom.” Furthermore, the middle managers not only communicate the plans for change but also teach and motivate employees. Importantly, managers should be the first targets for innovations, to ensure that they understand all the nuances of the innovations, and can teach and engage the workforce. On the other hand, if an incentive for change comes from the workers rather than from the leadership, managers also should be able to efficaciously communicate the need and the demand for innovation to the “top” of the company.

It is worth noting that managers who implement such innovations are prone to considerable stress, especially because the obligation to actualize advancements is very often simply added to their usual duties. Therefore, efforts to relieve these managers’ workload also ought to be made when implementing change.

Reference List

Barratt‐Pugh, L, Bahn, S & Gakere, E 2013, ‘Managers as change agents: implications for human resource managers engaging with culture change,’ Journal of Organizational Change Management, vol. 26, no. 4, pp. 748-764.

Burrus, D 2010, ‘Collaboration and communication tools to implement radical management,’ Strategy & Leadership, vol. 38, no. 6. Web.

Chew, MMM, Cheng, JSL & Petrovic-Lazarevic, S 2006, ‘Managers’ role in implementing organizational change: case of the restaurant industry in Melbourne,’ Journal of Global Business and Technology, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 58-67.

Conway, E & Monks, K 2011, ‘Change from below: the role of middle managers in mediating paradoxical change’, Human Resource Management Journal, vol. 21, no. 2, pp. 190-203.

DICE: a tool for executional certainty. n.d.. Web.

Keenan, P, Mingardon, S, Sirkin, H & Tankersley, J 2015. ‘A way to assess and prioritize your change efforts‘. Harvard Business Review. Web.

Linke, A & Zerfass, A 2011, ‘Internal communication and innovation culture: developing a change framework’. Journal of Communication Management, vol. 15, no. 4, pp. 332-348.

Miles, A 2013, ‘Agile learning: living with the speed of change,’ Development and Learning in Organizations, vol. 27, no. 2, pp. 20-22.

Militaru, C & Zanfir, A 2016, ‘Implementation of change in organization – challenge for the managers of future,’ Knowledge Horizons: Economics, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 52-56.

Năstase, M, Giuclea, M & Bold, O 2012, ‘The impact of change management in organizations – a survey of methods and techniques for a successful change,’ Revista de Management Comparat International, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 5-16.

Pollack, J & Algeo, C 2016, ‘Project managers’ and change managers’ contribution to success,’ International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, vol. 9, no. 2, p. 451-465.

Snowden, DJ & Boone, ME 2007, ‘A leader’s framework for decision making,’ Harvard Business Review. Web.

Van de Ven, AH & Sun, K 2011, ‘Breakdowns in implementing models of organization change‘. Academy of Management Perspectives, vol. 2011, pp. 58-74. Web.

Appendix 1

A Survey for a Study of Employees’ Perceptions of Organizational Change

The survey provided below is partially based on some concepts proposed by Năstase et al. (2012) in their research article. This survey can be used in order to assess whether employees perceive their company as progressive or not progressive. The first part of the questionnaire should be used to estimate the respondent’s own level of conservativeness, whereas the second and the third part are aimed directly at assessing the attitude of a participant toward top-down and bottom-up change in their company.

The following scale should be used for all the questions:

  1. – completely agree,
  2. – agree,
  3. – neutral,
  4. – disagree,
  5. – completely disagree.

The scores for questions 3, 5, 9, and 10 should be reversed.

Attitude toward change

  1. Do you agree that the leaders and managers of your organization are too unwilling to promote change?
  2. Do you agree that your company should use newer technologies?
  3. Do you agree that the leaders of your company sometimes rush too much with innovations, when, in fact, older methods should be preserved?
  4. Do you agree that you would perceive major structural changes (for instance, disrupting the traditional hierarchy and introducing a new, more horizontal structure) in your organization as progressive?
  5. Do you agree that constant change is harmful for an organization?
  6. Do you agree that the organizational culture of your company results in a lack of progress and development?

The perceptions of top-down change in the organization

  1. Do you agree that it is the manager’s responsibility to help workers adjust to changes in the company?
  2. Do you agree that the managers of your organization should devote more time to training their subordinates to use the newest technologies, such as new mobile communication software or information technology?
  3. Do you agree that the leaders of your company take all the needed steps to make sure that the company’s employees are “up to date” with all the newest technologies that are used in your industry?
  4. Do you agree that it is the worker’s duty to learn how to use the new technologies on their own, without anybody’s help?

The perceptions of bottom-up change in an organization

  1. Have you ever proposed any substantial innovations for your company that have been implemented?
  2. Have your colleagues (not managers or leaders of the organization) ever proposed any substantial innovations for your organization that have been implemented?
  3. Do you agree that you or your colleagues have a great potential for implementing beneficent change in your organization?

Demographical information

  1. Please state your gender.
  2. Please state how long (in years) you have been working for your current organization.

Appendix 2

The “Cynefin” decision-making tool (Snowden & Boone 2007, p. 4):

The “Cynefin” decision-making tool

Simple contexts: stable, with clear causal ties. In these contexts, everything is intuitively clear. Leaders should sense, categorize, and respond to the situation. 2) Complicated contexts: multiple right answers, a clear causal relationship, but not perceived by many. Leaders need to sense, analyze, and respond. 3) Complex contexts: unordered and not pre-defined situations; there might be no right answers, or right answers might be completely unknown. Leaders need to probe first, then to sense and respond. 4) Chaotic contexts: looking for right answers is meaningless; no patterns or stable causal relationships – these are in a constant flux. A leader needs to act first to establish some order; then the leader needs to sense and respond to the situation accordingly (Snowden & Boone 2007).

Appendix 3

The ranking of degree of influence of project managers and change managers on success factors in an organization (Pollack & Algeo 2016, p. 456).

The ranking of degree of influence of project managers and change managers on success factors in an organization

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