Created by Carolin Peinecke

The perpetrator / victim dilemma

Leaders in middle management often find themselves in a dilemma in change processes as they are themselves affected by the change on the one hand but on the other hand have to drive the change process forward in their capacity as leaders and accept the responsibility for the success of the process. Leaders have to deal with this tension themselves in order to bring about successful change processes.

Our consulting experience has shown that normally very few members of company management teams are privy to the arguments for and against or the background of decisions about corporate changes. Often, it’s only a panel made up of the first and second management levels that decide on a new strategy and the concomitant necessary changes. Some companies survey the levels below for suggestions – but how these suggestions are dealt with is not transparent either.

These observations demonstrate the meagre influence middle and lower management levels actually have – even though they then have to develop and push through the concrete changes and measures in everyday working life. The company just assumes and demands a positive attitude towards change and the ability to deal with it. This is a mistake that undermines a successful change process – as shown time and time again. Why?

If leaders are part of the change, they experience it at a very personal level and – just like their employees – go through different emotional phases that influence their attitude towards the changes. In contrast to the expected willingness to support the change project, leaders might perceive the changes to be unnecessary or as a disturbance to the way things are normally done and are taken out of their comfort zone. For instance, when they themselves don’t see the necessity for change or reject it. If such negative internal attitudes are not addressed, it is highly unlikely that changes will be actively carried forward.

The lack of transparency in decision-making and not taking into account the expertise of middle and lower management may raise doubt about the achievability and meaningfulness of change objectives. Leaders in middle and lower management then feel themselves in the awkward position of having to execute decisions and defend them to employees which they themselves do not support. Stress and strain can result if a leader feels insecure about the changes.

“To guide others when you don’t quite know
where you’re going yourself can be very stressful.”

Our leadership seminars and workshop preparation have shown us that leaders swing between what we call a perpetrator/victim attitude. They often feel completely alone in their job. If there is no one they can talk to at their own or a higher level and no sense of belonging when leaders find themselves in this emotional state, they turn to their employees. The result is that they are unable to perform their leadership role adequately. We believe that an integral success factor for change processes is internal support by the next highest level of leadership, listening to and trying to solve doubts and insecurities and thus being a partner to whom the managers responsible for change can turn to.

Movendo Consulting offers the Change Helicopter program at the kick-off of change processes as support. Tailored to the needs of the leaders responsible for implementing change, the basic principles of change management are presented in a workshop. Participants are given enough time and space to talk about their own doubts and worries during this training – directly with higher level leaders. Participants learn to analyse their own attitude towards the change process: Where do I feel there is no need for change? What do I think should be maintained? Where am I uncertain? It is often helpful to break down the whole process into separate components and to study each one in turn. For example, if a wave of redundancies are planned, many leaders feel uneasy and doubt the necessity for such a step whilst supporting the overall strategy.

Follow-up reviews – accompanied by Movendo consultants and instruments such as peer counselling – allow participants to discuss concrete challenges with colleagues and come up with answers. Their change competence is thus broadened and enhanced. Our Movendo consultants gradually share further tools and methods for enabling change management. The success of this program is ensured by the mixture of knowledge, exchange and learning from one another. Feedback from our participants has confirmed to us how important it is for leaders to reflect and pick up on their individual attitude to an intended reform within a given framework.