A number of months back I wrote a blog that asked if the middle manager role was the most difficult job in the world. I argued, particularly for those working in operations, that the demands placed on middle managers were unsustainable. My contention was that unless we address this problem we are in danger of increased attrition and burnout amongst this cohort.
So what can senior managers do to help them survive and thrive?
1. How are you getting on? The first and most important thing we can do is to check in with them, regularly. By asking ‘How are you getting on?’ we let them know that we care. This can’t just be a cursory conversation. We need to really listen – I call this contextual listening. There may be some venting but try to distinguish between those who like talking about how busy they are versus those who are really in trouble and do something about it.
2. Getting to the other side of the swamp When we’re fighting crocodiles in the swamp we can forget that what we’re really about is getting to the other side of the swamp. Use every opportunity to make a clear connection between organizational goals and the expected contribution of the middle manager job holder. Help them to prioritize on the basis of what will contribute most to the strategic agenda.
3. Manage the generational gap Today’s Gen Y cohort is confident, smart and social. Brand is important to them, work life balance is an entitlement, they expect to be challenged and they demand development and recognition. Point out their opportunities for learning, spell out the steps to career advancement and profile their achievements. Provide exposure at a senior level through networking and senior manager engagement. Recognize that your own Gen X or Boomer motivation drivers are likely to be different to those that report to you.
4. Coach the right Behaviours Put simply, high performance demands an equal focus on results and behaviours. It’s not just what we do but how we do it. Recognise the signals that you are leaning towards results over behaviours – emails become terse and demanding, we get less thanks for a job well done and we spend a lot more time doing rather than thinking. The best senior managers get the proper balance and spend time coaching the right behaviours
5. Do something about it Three years ago a results focused client of ours conducted an engagement survey and the feedback numbers were awful. It came as no surprise as attrition rates were high and rising especially amongst middle manager top performers. Instead of blaming a demanding corporate parent and tough market conditions the senior team decided to do something about it. They embarked on a series of initiatives designed to bring about a change in behaviours – a cultural transformation. While there were speed bumps along the way they stuck with it. Today their engagement ratings are better than sister sites and peers, instead of reducing headcount they are hiring again to handle new production lines hard won at corporate level, attrition rates are significantly reduced and they have been awarded the Shingo prize.
Don’t ignore the middle manager problem, do something about it and help them to survive and thrive!