Customer experience transformation requires a lot of change. But organizations don’t change very easily. Every customer experience journey faces a myriad of resistance in support of the status quo. This isn’t new insight; take a look at some well-aged wisdom:
“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.” -Martin Luter King, Jr.
“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” -Niccolo Machiavelli
“Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.” -John Kenneth Galbraith
While change is a struggle, it seems to be particularly difficult within one strata of the organization, middle managers. As you can see in the chart below with feedback from 249 large companies, middle managers are the weak link in customer experience efforts, a problem that worsens in larger companies. While front-line employees are seen as the most supportive of change, their supervisors and managers appear to be the largest obstacles. What’s going on here?
It comes down to the 5th law of The Six Laws of Customer Experience: employees do what is measured, incented, and celebrated. When change happens, middle managers get caught in between the aspirations for the future and the structures of the past.
Why does this situation affect middle managers the most? Senior leaders can embrace change quite easily by proclaiming what they want, which only takes a few changes to Powerpoint and a handful of meetings and emails. Front-line employees understand what customers are going through, so they are easy to get on-board with changes that will help. But middle managers don’t have that luxury. Even if they completely buy into the change, middle managers get stuck with delivering on the sales, productivity, and profitability measurements in the current plan.
Leaders may say they want change, but they don’t abandon existing business goals. This leaves middle managers operating in an environment where they get pushed to change how their people operate, but they get penalized when they don’t meet historical goals. Most of the measurements, incentives, and celebrations support the old way of working — and middle managers are the most held accountable for them.
For customer experience transformation to succeed, companies must overcome this middle-manager blockade. Here are some ideas:
- Form a middle manager task force, letting them voice their issues and help identify solutions
- Build a CX advocate/ambassador program and include some middle managers, this will give them a voice outside of their formal reporting structures
- Relieve some of their existing goals, giving middle managers bandwidth and motivation to focus on the new direction
- Celebrate middle managers who are making the change, focusing on their advocacy of the new direction
- Discuss middle managers in executive meetings, hopefully raising empathy for their situation
- Make middle mangers a priority as you focus on the Five I’s of Employee Engagement: Inform, Inspire, Instruct, Involve, and Incent.
The bottom line: Don’t hate the middle managers, hate the game