Change fatigue at middle management: the biggest bottleneck in lots of corporates

Change fatigue at middle management: the biggest bottleneck in lots of corporates

31 January 2021
Gerrit Sarens
Gerrit Sarens
  • When talking to middle managers in large corporates, one striking observation comes back: change fatigue. Lots of corporates have big transformation ambitions. However, in practice, it is often a big struggle to get things done.

  • Five observations we would like to share

    1. C-level takes a certain direction, but M-level does not follow. This means that the change goes at two different speed levels which creates frustrations at both levels
    2. What if changes from the past are not fully implemented yet? Typically, a source of confusion.
    3. Mindset at M-level: “we do it because we have no other choice”.
    4. Will it become better? Is this the right way to go? That is often a big question mark.
    5. A minority of pessimists and cynics often create a negative atmosphere.
  • Five advices learned from our Business Mentors

    1. The why should be clear: explain the bigger purpose and keep on repeating it.
    2. Go in little steps and celebrate successes. Sometimes C-level expects too much change in a too short period of time.
    3. Learn from the past: how did other changes go? What can we learn from that?
    4. Give the cynic people a key role in the change. Discuss with them why they are cynic. There are very interesting things to learn from them.
    5. Create room for regular evaluations and possibilities to change the course of action.

Struggles of a manager

Managers are

  • not or inadequately trained in this role


    • lack self-confidence
    • don’t know how to go from being a colleague to being a boss
    • need to loosen up on the command & control leadership style
    • must let go of the (technical) expert status
    • cannot give or accept constructive feedback
    • feel pressure to perform as manager
    • have difficulty building relationships
    • want to be liked by everyone or want to be the ‘bad boss’
    • play the hero
  • are struggling


    • stay too involved in operations
    • have trouble prioritizing
    • cannot delegate
    • fear conflict situations
    • disconnect from the team
    • deal with flawed strategic thinking
    • do not relate to higher management
    • lack clear communication skills
    • remain not self-aware
    • avoid difficult conversations
    • miss political antennas
    • ...
  • capable of more


    • need mental preparation as successor
    • need to be able to lead big changes ahead
    • need to learn to be emotionally resilient and in control
    • need to learn to make big decisions fast without all the information
    • must become persuasive presenters
    • need to learn how to cultivate their own personal brand
    • need to learn how to lead by example
    • manage by trust, not by fear
    • need to overly develop empathy
    • ...
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