Middle managers: The crucial business link

“A CEO’s performance is as good as the performance of his/her middle managers” – Med Jones

The middle management layer in businesses is misunderstood and highly underrated.

This essential link between senior executives and the ever-crucial coalface of employees – who are in touch with our customers – is often neglected. It’s the management layer that delivers strategy, messages and motivation down from the top. It’s the management layer that observes, learns and relays information from our customers and the majority of employees back to the senior executives.

Middle managers are a crucial business link.

Technically strong employees are promoted to managers every single day. We assume they will continue on their way as high performers. Other employees will learn from their work ethic and they will mentor others to follow in their footsteps. Promoting these technically strong over achievers will amplify business growth.

But are we missing a crucial step?

People management, leadership soft skills, the role of a middle manager, budgets, finance, business development – these are all new functions and skills. When these technically strong, high performers are identified, who grooms them as people managers and future leaders? Do we allow them to convert some of their billable time to management training before the transition?

No, we expect them to learn the new skill of people management overnight. We assume they understand their new roles from the time they sign the letter of offer. They are high performers after all, the best employees on our books.

Inevitably these newly promoted managers are set up to fail.

Here are my top five tips on how to create a successful middle managers:

  1. Don’t drop them in the deep end:Expose them to people management, finances, budgets, business development and all of those commercial realities before they start.
  2. Let them know people are watching:As managers their behaviour is now on display. Reiterate the importance of managing their energy and leading by example.
  3. Fast track the soft skills: Seek out opportunities to develop self-awareness through behavioural profiling and leadership programs that focus on management soft skills.
  4. Provide structured mentoring: Develop mentoring programs with experienced managers who can teach through experience and real life examples. Use external mentors that have been through the transition and organise for them to meet for coffee.
  5. Manage peers: Promotions cause cultural issues so talk about how to handle working amongst peers one day and managing them the next.

Assuming our technical stars will be great managers is a very common mistake. Get it wrong and you risk damaging your culture and losing a high performer.

Middle managers are a crucial business link and can make or break a business’ success.

Sue-Ellen Watts is the founder and director of wattsnext, specialists in HR, recruitment, compliance and people performance.


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