Middle managers are the first line managers in an organisation. They manage a team to drive results yet have very little or no impact on company strategy and objectives. They are expected to achieve results and motivate their teams by senior management, expected by their team to support and develop them whilst also delivering on people related aspects of the job and any reporting that is required by the business.
Senior management will typically expect from middle managers that they deliver the objectives determined by the organisation even if these aren’t realistic. They’re expected to get on with the difficulties that may arise with their team whether it is interpersonal conflict or staffing problems without letting it impact on the plan and expected output. They are also typically expected to find ways to motivate their team members and retain them even in contexts where they themselves have no impact on company direction or the changes that are impacting their team such as budgets or companywide technology and processes for example.
Teams expect their manager to support them day to day and to give them opportunities to develop their skills and career. More and more, employees have choices and mobility has become more of the norm. Talented individuals are the most likely to be able to move around freely and are also the ones that businesses often attempt to retain as they’re the most valuable to the business. Most people know that to build a career, they will have to move around when opportunities aren’t available at their current employer. This is a force that middle managers have to contend with and as a result they increasingly have to come up with ideas to enable people to grow so that they gain opportunities internally. Budgets and support for this are often limited due to a focus on profitability and day to day operational needs in businesses, leaving managers frustrated to see their key team members go.
Another force that impact heavily on middle managers is the incessant need to report. They have to give an account of progress on their area of responsibility and the work of their team higher up the chain of command for senior management to review, evaluate and present to business leaders.
Finally another unneglectable challenge for middle managers alongside all the above, is the need to understand the people related activities, supported by HR in larger businesses, as well as all the legal implications and obligations that they are responsible for as a representative of the company to their team.
All these forces have an impact on middle managers day to day, yet many organisations don’t invest in developing their managers thinking that they can deal with it, especially when they have been promoted internally because they were high performers. Indeed, many companies expect this level of performance to continue despite a complete change in the scope of the role and context in which they operate.
Nevertheless, there are actions middle managers can proactively take to simplify matters by seeking clarifications from senior management on:
- their expectations of the role and its purpose
- the objectives set,
- the level of autonomy and where support might be available internally.
Finding a mentor, or someone with whom the manager can exchange freely, can be a good idea so long as this person is ready to positively challenge them and understand the context in which they work. Some professional bodies will offer this service free of charge.
Despite having a difficult position, middle managers are the ones who get the teams together, work on the ground dealing with issues and celebrating successes day in and day out. They’re the ones departing employees will remember when thinking about how it was working for the company as their manager will have been at the center of most of their experiences at work, good or bad. For this reason, looking after middle managers well is essential to any business aspiring to retain its employees and build a good employer brand.