Unusually effective middle managers are tremendous repositories of change champions. A recent Harvard Business Review article offers insights on how to identify who the change champions might be. 1First, look for early volunteers. These individuals often have the confidence and enthusiasm to tackle the risky and ambiguous nature of change. They often feel constrained in their current duties, and are eager for more responsibility. Give it to them.
Second, look for positive critics. Change-resistant managers constantly find reasons why a change proposal won’t work, and they seldom, if ever, offer a counterproposal. In contrast, positive critics challenge existing proposals, suggest alternatives, and provide evidence to support their argument. Positive critics offer constructive criticism and positive criticism is essential to being a change champion.
Third, look for people with informal power. They are often middle managers whose advice and help are highly sought after by people all around them. They often have excellent reputations and a lot of “social capital.” They typically operate at the center of large informal networks, and know how to work with that network successfully.
Fourth, look for individuals who are versatile. Change champions need to be comfortable with change, and they often adapt more easily to previous organization change more readily and easily than others in the organization. Those who have endured in their career shifts, relocations, or both are more likely to be comfortable with change than those who have not undergone these professional changes.
Finally, look for emotional intelligence in your middle management ranks. Individuals who are aware of their own emotions and those of others, and actively take steps to manage their feelings, are more likely to adapt to an envisioned change. Emotional intelligence is much more important than traditional logical-mathematical intelligence. Using the vernacular of the day, change champions need “emotional” bandwidth. 2