Despite the fact that there are signts that the economy is turning around, not everyone is rejoicing. Though we often think that terminated employees are a recession’s only casualties, middle managers often shoulder the stress of a shaky economy more than any other workplace employee.
All too often, organizations overlook or dismiss the middle manager’s quagmire. However, this level is more important than ever to an organization’s viability.
Middle Management’s Quandary – Like being the Middle Child
The middle manager (MM) often parallels the middle child in a family. The oldest children (or senior level executives) are privy to information often withheld from younger family members. They also receive other advantages such as their parents’ and younger siblings’ adulation, first crack at the family resources and more opportunities than subsequent children. Older siblings (senior executives) are pressured by their parents (board of directors, shareholders, clients and the public) to live up to sometimes lofty expectations. Many of them succeed. Equal numbers look to their younger siblings (particularly the middle ones/middle management) to deflect the pressures placed upon them and pass undesirable responsibilities onto them.
The babies in the family (or those working under middle management) try to keep up with their older siblings. They also covet the MM’s privileges but haven’t put in the time yet to earn them. Often, they receive the desired attention when they misbehave or entertain through their antics. Frequently, they are left out of the information loop and as a result, become frustrated. In these instances, the youngest turn to their closest siblings (the middle children) to vent those frustrations. What’s more, these middles are expected to “fix” things when they go wrong.
The “middle child syndrome” isn’t limited to children per se. Today’s corporate MM suffers from similar feelings regarding his or her position in the pecking order. Sure, they have more advantages (i.e., higher salary and better title) than lower level workers. But they also have fewer perks than top
management. Worse, MMs rarely receive the glory yet shoulder more responsibilities than the most and least senior managers combined.
Help Middle Managers Succeed Because You Can’t Succeed without Them
First, recognize the situation that MMs are in – caught in the middle. Yes, they get more pay because of their increased responsibilities, but remember they were most likely promoted to their current position by demonstrating aptitude in their technical area of expertise (e.g., accounting, IT). They more than likely have not been trained to delegate effectively, connect their action with corporate priorities or ask the questions necessary to ensure the teams makes the highest and best use of their time.
Second, remember MM can often be a thankless job; akin to a no-man’s land. Doing the right thing for an employee is not always rewarded at the top – and vice versa. This “reward system” can often lead to great confusion and sometimes political methods to manipulate an outcome rather than achieve it through open persuasion and discussion.
Third, someone new to MM will make mistakes. Managing people and getting things done through others is complicated. Where are we actually trained in these skills? Yet, this powerful and permanent teaching method – learning from mistakes – is often rewarded with reprimand or removal of responsibilities.
It’s a wonder that MMs do successfully matriculate to senior management.
How Senior Management Can Leverage MMs Fostering Success
Here’s what smart executives recognize and incorporate to ensure their MMs help them succeed:
Identify those employees whose personal values are consistent with the organizational values. Inconsistency between what the organization rewards with regard to work ethic and approach is a common point of contention. Getting results is important, but MM also represent the company with their teams and with clients.
Mentor so that they can hone the skills to effectively step into middle management roles. Opportunities include maximizing their time; fostering appropriate delegation skills; and mastering effective communication-both listening to others and articulating their own ideas.
Treat them with respect and enable their learning. Embrace their mistakes and help them learn. Enable them to succeed. You’ll create highly loyal employees who are motivated beyond their paycheck.
Allow them to stretch their big picture/strategic thinking muscles. The more top management allows mid-level executives to do so, the more skillful they’ll be at managing/dealing with both upper and lower level employees. Rather than dictating from the top, bring the MM into the fold to help create and implement strategic plans. The more invested in the plan the MM is, the more likely he/she will be able to successfully carry out the company’s mission.
Encourage proactive thinking among MMs and give them the leeway to make decisions on their own. Doing so encourages them to circumvent problems, reduce the amount of time they spend reacting to complaints and problems from the top and the bottom as well as customers. In fact, creating a cultural shift in how MMs respond to the aforementioned can drastically change not only the workplace environment but how successful the organization will be overall.
Ensure that your MMs have a vested interest in the organization’s strategy. It falls under the “what’s in it for me” category. If your MM sees an opportunity to hone and/or acquire new skills that will help him/her move up, they’ll be more likely to reinforce the strategic plan during difficult times, rather than react in the moment.
Get personal. It’s easy to forget that the workhorse MM is a person with family, friends and interests apart from the business. Acknowledging this aspect of the MM’s life will go a long way towards making sure that they are content and have the energy and dedication to carry out their responsibilities well. Moreover, if you provide your MM with specifics that will personally fulfill them, they will return the favor with efficiency, productivity and happy employees.
Finally, think of the MM as the mother of the family. As long as you acknowledge the MM’s efforts, listen and respect them when they want to be heard, and support them to ensure that the organization is a well-oiled machine, the home/workplace will then be a happy one.
This article was first published as a guest blog by Bryan Malickson, The Title Attorney, http://www.thetitleattorney.com/.