Thursday June 15 2017
No, I promise you this is not a blog about fitness! However, I would like to talk about a part of the organization which is equally ignored – the middle management. In organizations which are increasingly becoming flatter, the pressure on middle management to perform is huge. On the one hand, they are responsible for executing the strategy of the leadership – a strategy in which they had limited (if any) input – and on the other, they are still close enough to the employees on the ground and are, therefore, also expected to “do” rather than only “manage”. Their learning and development needs are largely ignored and chances of burn out are extremely high. Managers also have an enormous impact on employee retention and engagement. Recent Gallup data found that less than one-third of employees are engaged in their work—which is perhaps not surprising considering that only 35 percent of managers themselves are engaged and that only 1 in 10 of them have the requisite skills to do their jobs. According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2015 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement research report, 58 percent of employees rate their relationship with their immediate supervisor as “very important,” but only 40 percent say they are “very satisfied” with that relationship.
So how can we address this?
Soft Skills Training
It’s obvious that as you go up the corporate ladder, your ability to connect with people, to communicate, to empathize and be emotionally intelligent are critical to the team’s and your success. However, for most organizations, training is focused on new hires or the senior executives. Middle managers, by and large, get a raw deal. And yet middle managers have an increasingly higher number of people reporting to them and less time to spend with each of them. In my experience, one of the main reasons why middle managers fail is that they do not acknowledge that they are at a different level in the company and need to use these skills along with delegating. They continue to operate the same way as if they were still managing 2-3 people and quickly find that they cannot cope with the workload.
Designing a training package around communication, delegation and teamwork will not only benefit the organization but also help prevent the middle manager from burning out.
Coaching is more and more of a reality in the corporate world today. Many C-Suite executives of companies employ a Coach and with increasing regulation, the consistency of a coach’s quality and methodology is increasing. However, rarely do organizations hire coaches for the middle managers. Why? Arguably, this is the level that needs it the most. These are the leaders of the future, they have had to transition and change from being in positions where they were told what to do to now being in positions where they need to start taking decisions – not only for themselves, but for the team as well. To have someone at the other end to share your struggles with and who can help you make more conscious choices can be of immense benefit and do wonders for the manager’s confidence.
Coaching should not only be a benefit offered to C-Suite executives, but instead is key to creating a culture that deeply understands what is needed for human beings to excel, including built-in support promoting high-performance. Coaching can achieve results more quickly than training, perhaps due to its one-on-one format, and can also greatly enhance training. A coach can work with real-life issues as they occur, stimulating rapid growth through experiential learning, and reinforcing both human and strategic values that have been proven to support success.
To be accountable for results and not be empowered to influence them is the worst position to be in. And yet, this is what often happens in many organizations. Decision making ends up being very centralized which reduces a middle manager to becoming a mailbox. This does nothing for their confidence or motivation.
At the same time, a change in mindset among the middle managers themselves is often required. They find themselves in a position for the first time in their careers where they are judged on the performance of the team rather than their own individual performance and in order to succeed, this requires a different approach to work.
The middle manager is often a lonely person. In charge of a large team, responsible for a business and often with no peers in the same location. Organizations should provide a platform for these managers to come together and discuss common issues. My previous company tried this a few years back by bringing together 45 of their geography managers from all around the world – the effect was palpable! Indeed, the experience proved to be so successful that it has now become an annual event. Clearly the cost involved for flying managers in around the globe is significant, however, creatively using technology can help overcome this.
There is little doubt that middle managers believe they have one of the hardest jobs in the company – they are pulled from the top and below. They certainly don’t get the same benefits as senior leadership nor the glory – on the contrary, they are often easy targets for getting the blame. Yet, they play a key role in implementing an organization’s strategy and generating enthusiasm among employees to see it through. So, you’d better watch that middle!