The Role of Middle Managers in Organisational Change

Herzig, Sharyn Elizabeth (2007). The Role of Middle Managers in Organisational Change PhD Thesis, School of Psychology, University of Queensland.

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Author Herzig, Sharyn Elizabeth
Thesis Title The Role of Middle Managers in Organisational Change
School, Centre or Institute School of Psychology
Institution University of Queensland
Publication date 2007
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Dr Nerina Jimmieson
Abstract/Summary Change is ever-present in today’s fast-paced organisations (Lewis, 2000). Market demands, the introduction of new technologies and an internal push for growth are some of the major factors driving change in organisations. However the failure rate, reported as high as 50% (Majchrzak, 1988) to 70% (Burnes, 2002), needs to be addressed (Marks & Mirvis, 2000). In particular, adequate coverage has not been given to the role middle managers play in organisational change (Huy, 2002; McKinley & Scherer, 2000). Middle management can be broadly defined as managers holding positions between the first-level supervisors and the level of executives, below those who have company-wide responsibilities (Frohman & Johnson, 1992). In the 1990s, middle management was typically viewed as resistant to change (Wai-Kwong, Priem, & Cycyota, 2001). It is important to reduce negative views held of middle management and promote their positive input into organisational change processes. Middle managers have been identified as contributing to higher levels of organisational performance when involved in strategy-making (Wai-Kwong et al., 2001) and the positive emotional management of their employees (Huy, 2002). Thus, the aim of the current body of research was to make a contribution to the existing deficient literature on middle managers in organisational change by exploring the strategic role of middle managers. Factors which facilitate organisational change and several underlying psychological states were also investigated. In addition, a measure of perceived change success was developed. Three studies were undertaken to investigate the role of middle managers. Study 1 was an exploratory study investigating middle managers’ perceptions of their role in change. It was qualitative in nature and examined a number of different types of change. Study 2 also was from the point of view of middle managers, while Study 3 investigated the impact of middle managers’ roles on employees. Both Studies 2 and 3 were quantitative and focused on transitional change. Study 1 involved interviews with 40 middle managers from a range of organisations. Thematic analysis revealed that, at the pre-implementation stage, the psychological state of uncertainty experienced by middle managers focused on the strategic concept of the change. During implementation however, uncertainty related to the appropriate procedures to implement. Middle managers’ strategic role was classified into three categories labelled creators, designers, and implementers. Those with higher strategic input (i.e., the creators and designers), reported lower levels of uncertainty than those with low strategic input (i.e., implementers). The factors identified as being facilitators to uncertainty management (i.e., communication with senior management and their own staff, support from senior management, role conflict, and peer interaction) along with other psychological states (i.e., change efficacy and commitment) were expressed in themes in the qualitative study. From middle managers’ responses regarding their perceptions of change success, an outcome measure of change was developed and employed in Studies 2 and 3. Study 2 extends the findings of Study 1 by means of quantitative research. A questionnaire was utilised in a cross-sectional study of 123 middle managers to examine the role of middle management during organisational change at a large mining company. The change context was the implementation of Six Sigma projects. Change outcome variables included perceived change success and importance placed on Six Sigma values. In addition, an independent measure of success was provided by the company via an internal audit. Using hierarchical multiple regression, factors which facilitated the implementation of projects by middle managers were examined (including communication with leaders, support from leaders, communication with employees, peer interaction and training). The psychological states (uncertainty, change efficacy and commitment) were found to play a mediating role in some relationships between the facilitators and the change outcomes. Also of interest was the role middle managers adopted during change, determined by strategic design input and Six Sigma project member role. Analysis of variance (ANOVAs) revealed that higher levels of strategic input and higher level Six Sigma roles were associated with more positive perceptions of a number of factors (e.g., more positive perceptions of communication, support, perceived change success and reduced strategic uncertainty) compared to those middle managers with lower levels of strategic input and lower level Six Sigma roles. A third study was conducted to further examine the findings related to communication with employees and to further explore the effect middle managers have on employees during change. One hundred and six employees were surveyed at one point in time regarding their past experiences of technological change at a tourism organisation. A series of hierarchical multiple regression analyses revealed that, at the pre-implementation stage of change, communication from middle managers was positively related to employees’ perceptions of change success. This relationship was partially mediated by employee readiness for change. During implementation, transformational leadership and transactional leadership were introduced as factors of theoretical interest and both were found to be positively related to employees’ perceptions of change success and this relationship was mediated by communication from middle managers. Overall, these studies support the important positive role of middle managers in organisational change, including creating a readiness for change in employees and leading to more successful perceptions of change for both middle managers and employees. The findings suggest that a greater strategic involvement of middle managers was associated with more successful change outcomes. Also identified were numerous important facilitators to the role of middle managers and their relationship to psychological states. Another key contribution was the development of the organisational change outcome measure, titled perceived change success. The relevance of this measure for future research is discussed.

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Created: Fri, 21 Nov 2008, 15:58:40 EST