Brilliant Basics – 3 simple tips to improve middle tier managers

Introduction

In a similar way that University is seen as the right path within education, it feels as though management is viewed as the holy grail in business. For me personally I cannot think of anything worse than becoming a people manager. This is based on my experience of delivering leadership development programmes and seeing the challenges that people managers face every single day and that doesn’t even include their own personal deliverables.

Something else that I have observed over the last four years has been the limited support made available for people managers. For me a “training session” that sends everyone to sleep and has no actions off the back of it is a waste of time both for the individual and business – of course, this has associated costs both financially and time wise.

The businesses that I have seen suffer most is those that have gone through fast growth e.g. technology businesses. In response to this growth organisations typically build a structure including a senior leadership team and then reporting into them is what could be described as the middle management layer – for me this is where most of the problems and challenges can be found.

  1. High performing employee
  2. Promoted to people management role
  3. Individual and team performance decreases
  4. Employee attrition

Sound familiar? I’m certainly not suggesting that this happens in every scenario but I’ve observed plenty of examples. The transition from an individual contributor through to a high performing line manager is NOT easy. I believe that the individual needs to be accountable for their development but what can we do as businesses to facilitate and support them during this tricky time?

This weeks brilliant basics blog is going to focus on the middle management tier of leadership.

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Role of leaders in modern business

But what is the role of our middle tier managers? Historically their focus has been very much on results and it didn’t matter how you achieved them. I still regularly see industries such as Recruitment implementing unrealistic KPI’s and micromanaging. If you look at the demographic and persona of employees in the Recruitment industry, is this really the best approach?

Our workforce has now changed significantly. For me personally the role of our middle tier managers needs to be focused on providing guidance for our teams, along with engaging and motivating staff. That being said, all of this is very dependant on the culture of the business. We need to be recruiting the right people into the right roles and trust them to exceed or at least deliver against expectations.

One of the biggest challenges that I’ve observed from our work with middle tier managers has been their ability to wear multiple hats. Ultimately, we’re asking them to do a dual role. Not only are they now responsible for their own deliverables but they are also responsible for a team of 5,10,15 people. So what advice, tools and processes can we provide to ensure that they are able to drive performance across our businesses?

 

3 simple areas to focus on as a middle tier manager

#1 Empathy

You’ll regularly see me talking about empathy and how important it is when you’re looking to build relationships. Whether its at work, at home or with your friends, being able to understand how your words and actions make others feel is absolutely critical.

Empathy enables you to build trust and deeply understand a persons strengths and weaknesses. In a leadership context this can play into your favour as it allows you to understand how to get the most out of each team member.

Try and reflect on your existing relationships and which ones you value the most – transactional business relationship or the ones where you’re comfortable, can be yourself and trust the other person? Here’s some things to try…

  • Regularly sit down with each member of your team and ask them how they are, what’s going well, what’s not going so well and if there’s anything you can do to help them personally or professionally
  • Take time to understand what each team member is good at and always play to their strengths – we can’t be good at everything

 

#2 Comms’

People who regularly read my content are probably getting a little bit bored with me talking about the importance of communication – but until we start getting half decent at it, I will carry on!

I can’t emphasise enough the importance of communication, both at a individual, leadership and business level. Those with an open culture typically create an enjoyable environment and guess what happens when you have an enjoyable environment = high performance. Of course, this requires processes, systems and a structure that supports performance too.

Best of all, a good comms strategy is not going to cost you a lot financially or time wise, but it will truly have  a transformational impact on the relationships across your business.

Middle tear managers often end up being the bridge between the senior leadership team and employees, this can either work really well or the complete opposite. Some businesses fear sharing information with their staff but why? If you’re not willing to share information with your employees then should you really be doing such activities?

Poor communicate leads to frustration, low performance, confusion and in the worst case scenario employee attrition – which dramatically impacts your ability to grow. Here’s a few tips…

  • Regularly capture feedback from your staff via surveys, focus groups and 1-1’s – then communicate out on a regular basis WHAT changes you’re going to make, WHY you’re going to make them and WHEN you’re going to make them by
  • Look at your channels of communication e.g. intranets, tools such as slack and if you don’t have a large budget then regular newsletters are fine. Try to steer away from email as it is difficult to track and also there’s far too much noise on email

 

#3 Driving actions

Although most cultures have now transitioned away from micromanagement, our middle tear managers still require the ability to drive actions and results. But how do we do this?

It’s very easy for our middle tier managers and particularly senior leadership to become very “big picture”. This usually happens when we procrastinate and think too much about what we should do, without actually following through with actions.

For me personally a simple way to drive actions at an individual, team and organisation level is to provide everyone with a clearly defined purpose. This is what will bind everyone across the business together and provide a central point to all activity.

Equally, having a robust performance management process that isn’t done to tick a box, will naturally drive monthly actions – which can then be broken down into weekly and daily activities. Here’s some things to try…

  • Define a company purpose – WHY do people come and work for your business. This isn’t what you do as a business but it is WHY you do the work that you do
  • Review your performance management process – from my experience performance management is seen as a compliance task in a lot of businesses. Design a process that is an effective use of time and has clearly defined actions.

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Conclusion

Today’s brilliant basics blog focuses on the three core areas that I feel will enable middle tier managers and businesses to performance.  Being a leader is not easy and in most cases, there’s very little support or opportunities for development. I’d encourage all businesses across the UK to begin investing into their middle tier managers.

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Always keen to hear people’s thoughts so please like/comment/share.

Harry Wright

Employee Engagement & Delivery Consultant

Rencai Group

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