Lions, donkeys, fresh oil and treacle…

The market is ever changing, and the speed of change is getting faster. If a business doesn’t keep up with the pace of change then it becomes uncompetitive, irrelevant and eventually slips down the greasy pole to failure. There are several large UK companies – particularly, but not exclusively, retailers – who seem to have struggled to change and are now suffering the consequences. The Badger has followed events with interest, and triggered by a recent LinkedIn article penned by an ex-colleague, the Badger has reflected on his own experience with business change to see if one consistent learning point stands out. If so, what is it? Well, one thing emerged, namely that an engaged, effective and action-oriented ‘middle management’ is crucial to the fast pace of change needed for a business to remain relevant in today’s world.

A large company is like a super-tanker, but in today’s world it needs to manoevure like a nimble coaster not a super-tanker! The larger the company, the more important it is to have middle management that is experienced, motivated, and passionately aligned with change objectives and necessary timelines. Middle management is the engine room that implements change. It needs to operate as ‘fresh oil’ rather than ‘treacle’. Good company leaders know that ‘fresh oil’ means having the right people in middle management and treating them as intelligent officers rather than foot soldiers. Having and communicating a clear and credible vision, explaining not just instructing, and aligning hearts and minds to build belief and passion for the required journey and destination are also essential. Middle managers must have belief, respect and confidence in their company leaders, and vice versa. If any part of the equation is missing, then ‘treacle’ will be the order of the day and a barrier to progress.

The right company leadership is, of course, crucial. Middle management need to see their leaders as ‘lions’ not ‘donkeys’. The reverse is also true. Company leaders need confidence that middle management is populated with ‘lions’ not ‘donkeys’. The Badger learned over the years that when company leadership and middle management are both ‘lions’ then ‘fresh oil’ is likely to be in the engine room and change will be implemented nimbly and well. Any other lion/donkey combination is a recipe for ‘treacle’ and a slow and frustrating slide towards irrelevance and failure.

Finally, coasters have the advantage of being more manoeuvrable than super-tankers. Coasters can adapt quicker to changing circumstances. The Badger wonders how many super-tankers are struggling to adapt fast enough to remain relevant. Over the coming months it will be interesting to see which super-tankers have ‘lions’ and ‘fresh oil’ in place to successfully implement the changes needed to remain relevant and avoid the breakers yard…

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