The Frozen Middle (1)

It is meddling with our efforts to control costs… It is stopping us in our innovation endeavors… It is a black hole where our strategies die…

I did not become aware of the name until a few weeks ago (i.e. Spring 2018), and when I googled “frozen middle”, I finally understood what I had been facing for a decade.

In the last 10 years of my 20+ years consulting for the federal government, my customers have consistently been federal government leaders operating in the low to middle hierarchical ranks of federal agencies. And I have consistently hit a wall in my numerous attempts to access higher levels of leadership in order to get the direction that my customers were not providing. That’s MY experience but it’s not about me or about what I do to fulfill my job description and get a sense of accomplishment. It’s about government organizations that stagnate and fail to execute Congress mandates or Agency strategies.

So, if you are interested, and for the sake of understanding what really happens in the frozen middle (or fails to happen is more like it), you can look at Examples and Links…

The frozen middle refers to the layers of an organization that become paralyzed by change or the fear of it. It is conservative and works at preserving the status quo; it resists change and of course any innovation is dead in its tracks as soon as it hits the frozen middle; it is true for innovations from down below that never make it to the leader who can make them work for the enterprise; and it’s true for the strategy from up top that never gets interpreted into measurable objectives that people could be held accountable for.

The frozen middle has been recognized, analyzed, and  discussed; and it is now being scrutinized by change agents in corporate America. It does exist and has fed the growth of a multitude of  leadership development and organizational change programs and businesses.

Just like in corporate America, government leaders in the middle of their organization are under pressure to implement the strategy set forth by their agency’s leadership, all the while dealing with the many fires from things gone wrong below their ranks, down where the rubber meets the road. And that does not even address the clarity they need to develop in order to interpret the strategic objectives handed to them so that they can be executed by an organization that needs to change at its core in order to be efficient and perform successfully… Whew! I’m stressed just thinking about it!

But it is their very position at the center of it all that makes these mid-rank agency leaders critical to the successful execution of our government transformation. We should be paying attention to them. Top leadership in those organizations that ARE leading change may not yet have identified that the frozen middle doesn’t just happen in corporate America. It is in our federal government; and by slowing down the progress towards necessary transformation, the frozen middle may soon be one of the nation’s biggest threat. Insider threat.