Taming the Survey: Managing the Employee Survey to Create Space for Change Oriented Leadership

Magnus Larsson*, Robert Holmberg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Often, the space for agency and leadership for middle managers is understood to depend on their capacity to escape standardized controlling systems. In this paper, we challenge this view, and instead explore the possibility for middle managers to engage with and make systems enabling rather than constraining, thereby supporting locally relevant change initiatives. We specifically explore how managers engage with employee surveys, as organization wide standardized systems, and work to make these enabling. Based on interviews with 48 managers and observations of 10 meetings in 5 different organizations, we identify three main strategies: reinterpretation, prioritization, and embedding. Drawing on complexity leadership theory, we argue that through these strategies, the managers succeed in creating a temporary adaptive space, thereby facilitating development and innovation. Our findings contribute to the literature on middle managers by developing a detailed understanding of the possibility for enabling leadership in this position.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Change Management
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)412-431
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Published online: 16 Jun 2021.


  • Middle managers
  • Leadership
  • Employee survery
  • Complexity leadership

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