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Active Management and the Challenge of Change

Management Is a Spectrum

Active management lives in the healthy middle of a spectrum which has anemic absent management on one side and suffocating micromanagement on the other.   

Absent managers fail to adequately interact with their staff, and provide little in the way of guidance, mentorship, or feedback so employees are left unsupported and rudderless.  Micromanagers, on the other hand, closely control every aspect of their team’s work without allowing input or initiative, leaving employees feeling untrusted and demoralized.  In both cases, team cohesion breaks down and turnover goes up. 

Active management avoids the pitfalls of these two unsustainable extremes.  Active managers implement best practices like regular meetings that set expectations, celebrate wins, and reinforce positive behaviours.  They create clear guidelines, set aggressive but achievable objectives, and listen to and support their employees while getting out of their way.

Poor Management and the Fear of Push back

While an active management style is by far the most effective one, many organizations are unable to find the balance between absent and micro-managers to fill their leadership ranks.   

A common concern among employee-facing leaders is getting pushback on their management style.  They fear being perceived as either absent or micro-managers, and the moment either is mentioned, tensions rise, and managers swing to the other extreme without taking the time to find a middle ground.

How, then, can an organization effectively implement behavioral change management to bring in an active management style across all its departments without creating pushback among its workforce?

Comparison is Relative and Change Takes Time

Critical to the success of any initiative to implement active management is the fundamental understanding that employees are used to the management style currently in place.  The existing style may be good, bad, or ugly, but whatever it is, people are accustomed to it, and people are inherently uncomfortable with behavioural change.   

And because comparison is relative, the difference between perception of the “before” and the “after” may be startlingly inaccurate.  For example, in an organization tackling an absent management style, employees will undoubtedly experience an increase in management involvement in their daily routine.  Compared to their “before”, this may be perceived as micromanagement rather than a pivot to a healthy active management style.   And a move away from micromanagement to active management may leave employees feeling like they’ve been left unmanaged and set up to fail.

This is a common threat in the early implementation phase, but one that can be avoided if managers remember it’s their responsibility to demonstrate the benefits of active management, and to lead by example with patience and perseverance.   Change takes time, and nowhere more so than within the context of workplace behavior and culture.

Adoption Requires Structure and Consistency

If leading by example is key to successfully implementing active management initiatives, it’s also critical to remember that behavior takes some time to normalize, and consistency is integral to that process.

Things like adherence to an agreed schedule and cadence of meetings become extremely important.  Being on time and active listening sets the tone and expectations for staff who look to their leaders for queues.  By taking the lead in embracing change, setting a consistent tone, and allowing enough time for the process to take root, leaders will create an environment where their staff will not only adopt but embrace the change.

The first step is always the hardest, but persistence is the key.  Done correctly, that persistence pays off and the benefits become apparent.  Change is frequently an unpleasant experience, but with correct leadership, teams can be guided past their skepticism.

For a valuable overview on the benefits of active management, read our article Converting Strategy into Action.  Trindent’s unique approach tackles the most challenging issues facing change management and standing in the way of implementing effective management styles.

The author of this article – Christopher Lee is a consultant at Trindent.