Leadership, Organizational Change

Middle and operational management: major challenges

…… Part of The Basics series. First published in February 2013 ……


Pressure on the organization after top management is on board

Going digital inside an organization will be a lot easier if the C-suite is a driving force. That’s the case with most early adopters of the digital workplace. They have strong, visible and active support from the top. However the majority of organizations are still struggling to get the top team in tune with their digital initiatives.

There is so much focus about convincing senior manage that you might think the early adopters, who have achieved this, are now on the fast lane to the digital workplace. This is far from reality because their challenge is now middle management. This is not surprising because, once the top is on board, things start to get real. Support functions begin to feel the heat of change. Line managers, already under pressure to reduce costs and improve operational performance, are often the final hurdle.

Middle and operational, the big hurdles

On one hand I see the dream CEO, iPad in hand, fielding questions from the press after a big event. A modern, tuned in, mobile, real time persona who participates in the enterprise social network and writes blog posts personally.

But what happens behind doors in top management meetings? Does the same CEO make digital part of management responsibilities? Or is it left in the hands of IT and Communication?

Until the digital mindset is impregnated throughout the organization, at all levels and through all functions, the benefits will be limited and anecdotal. Without critical mass, people quickly go back to old habits.

The chart below compares the responses of early adopters and the majority to the question: “What parts of your organization demon­strate the greatest hesitation or resistance to integrat­ing social collaboration into the way of working?”

Only the CEO

In many organizations, only the CEO can enforce what’s required to build a digital workplace. There are two major reasons for this:

  1. A digital workplace requires deep, cross-organizational collaboration. This culture,  contrary to the “silo way of working”  is often diluted or boycotted for internal political reasons. It takes the CEO to make it clear to everyone that this is the way the organization is moving.
  2. A digital workplace facilitates a collaborative culture that challenges old habits: work becomes more visible through activity streams, people are empowered through self-publishing tools such as blogs and wikis, and self-organizing communities grow in number and influence. The CEO’s visible participation is invaluable, especially in internal events and on internal platforms.