Whither middle management? Empowering interface and the failure of organizational change

Jonathan D Raelin, C G Cataldo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (SciVal)
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While there has been a distinct evolution in how middle managers participate in change, from resistors to facilitators, they often remain ineffective due to executive constraints. Emphasizing the crucial role middle managers play in shaping systems during change, a lack of empowerment to fill an interstitial role is presented as a central source of change failure. A qualitative case study theoretically underpinned by a practical rationality approach of a failed change initiative at a large financial services firm is presented to explore the interstitial nature of middle managers. Findings indicate that this failure can be attributed to the evolution of closed executive and rank-and-file systems, leaving middle managers powerless and resulting in the firm being bought-out. Pulling from this case and research on middle managers, a key contribution of this study is the presentation of empowering interface as a focal lens through which micro and macro gaps in change can be captured and addressed. Empowering interface reveals how standard lists of variables depicted as undermining change (i.e. poor climate, involvement, communication) are often manifestations of broader systemic problems. Embracing an interstitial role allows middle managers to establish a shared discourse, promoting cascading empowerment, opening systems, and cultivating successful change. Concrete steps are presented detailing how empowering interface can be used by middle managers to bridge closed systems and save organizational changes. Using the derived model, practical implications are provided for middle managers wishing to develop empowering interface, executives designing functional change, and scholars striving to improve change success. © 2011 Copyright Taylor and Francis Group, LLC.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)481-507
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Change Management
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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