This article was based on episode 265 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Members of the Modern Manager community get two months of Fast Forward membership for free. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.
Middle managers get such a bad rap. Recently, there seems to be a trend in thinking that middle managers are a bloat to the system, creating bureaucracy and filling workdays with unnecessary meetings. Yet that couldn’t be farther from the truth! Middle managers are the key to success for any organization. This is why I started The Modern Manager podcast in the first place: to help managers (at all levels within an organization) get the credit and support they deserve in their important roles.
I’m so glad to be joined by Emily Field to help elucidate all the reasons why middle managers are so essential. Emily helps leaders shape data-driven organizational strategies to establish talent management as a distinctive advantage and secure the human resources function as a driver of business value. She shares here how managers can rethink their career path, advocate for their needs, and best position themselves and their teams to thrive.
MIDDLE MANAGEMENT IS THE LINK
Managers are the link between senior leadership, strategic vision, and the frontline. They are the translators and sense makers who are best equipped to make sure great work gets done and employees are flourishing.
Foster a Good Daily Experience
For many employees, their time is spent with colleagues and their manager, not the senior leaders at the top of an organization. While senior leaders can inspire their people with vision, it is managers’ daily interactions with team members that make the difference between employees wanting to go to work or not.
Share Information Like a Sieve, Not a Faucet
Managers receive information from both above and below them. Ideally they should work like a sieve, not a faucet. They must filter the information from the top into a plan that works on the ground. They also take the information from the bottom and pass it to higher ups in a way that best informs leadership of people’s needs.
Acting as a sieve gives their team a sense of autonomy and agency. For example, instead of forcing a top-down policy like returning to the office, managers can engage their teammates by sharing the bigger picture and working together to devise a solution that works for everyone.
Match People With Work to be Done
In the past, when technology made a job obsolete, positions would often be eliminated. Nowadays, as technology and automation disrupt the workforce, managers have the opportunity to redeploy their best team members. Experienced managers know that when you have amazing employees, you want to retain them, even when their former role is no longer needed.
Managers are well positioned to learn about their teammates’ strengths and goals so that they know what new roles or projects to assign them. This reduces the costs and uncertainties of hiring and enables valuable team members to continue contributing. Plus, when people feel like their work is aligned with who they are and that they are positively impacting the organization and its customers, they will be thrilled to come to work.
MIDDLE MANAGEMENT SHOULD BE A DESTINATION
Middle management is usually seen as a stepping stone to a promotion to senior leadership. But why are we moving our best people managers into positions where they no longer do what they do best: working with people? (Yes, senior managers and middle managers need different skills!)
People management is an amazing skill set and should be valued as such. It’s important for those who excel at the role to not believe they need to “move up”, but rather to stick to their core strengths and expand the role with additional compensation and career opportunities. We need to change the stereotype of middle management as “not a good place to be”.
Emily encourages managers to pause and reflect on their career path. If working with and developing people is where you get your energy, middle management may be the best place for you. If managing a team makes you feel like you’re contributing your best value, stay in that role and look for ways to expand it so that you’re compensated for the value you’re delivering.
FOCUS TIME ON WHAT MATTERS MOST: PEOPLE
Research shows that managers by and large are not spending their time well. Almost half of their time is spent on administrative and individual work, rather than working with or growing their people and developing strategy. We need to be clear about the importance of managers as impact multipliers and talent magnets. Great managers draw the best people to work for them and then get the best out of those people.
Talk With Your Team About How You Spend Your Time
Engage your team in a dialogue over your shared calendar, and experiment with how you spend your time together or supporting them. After meetings or projects, ask your employees what felt valuable or not. What could be done differently if you’re working or meeting virtually vs. in person? Ask your colleagues what you and they could do next time to make the time you spend together more valuable or productive. By engaging them, you communicate that managers don’t need to carry all the responsibility and that the team can help solve problems.
Talk With Your Supervisor About How You Spend Your Time
If you feel like you’re overloaded with work that takes away from your management responsibilities, go speak with your supervisor. Ask for a list of everything that needs to be done. Then consider what doesn’t add value and what can be eliminated. Automate administrative work more and simplify it. Examine how you measure impact, and make sure the right people are working on the right things. If you need to bring up a delicate situation, Emily recommends the OILS technique; Observe what you’re seeing that’s not going well, share the Impact that it has, give your manager time to Listen and absorb what you’re saying, and then Strategize what to do differently in the future.
There’s a reason why 43% of middle managers report being burnt out. Managers, especially middle managers, are so important yet so undervalued. They are the impact multipliers, the people magnets, and the translators. They are the ones who help reconcile what’s happening on the ground with what’s coming from above. If we can reclaim the power and beauty of middle management - and make sure it gets the compensation that it deserves - we will transform the modern workplace into a healthier and more sustainable place in which everyone feels fulfilled.
KEEP UP WITH EMILY
Get access to 1 of 5 giveaway copies of Emily’s book, Power to the Middle, when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at themodernmanager.com/join.
This article was based on episode 265 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.