by Gary Payne, Robert Satterwhite, and Ann Wheeler

How do you motivate a middle manager?

Middle managers need to be sold on the culture and vision of your organization. When your middle managers are going to model organizational behaviors and values, it’s critical to win over their hearts and minds, and keep them motivated. 

To do so, your company should:

Provide purpose

People are motivated by purpose, particularly the younger generation. In a 2021 Deloitte survey, out of 8,273 Gen Z respondents, 49% said they chose their careers and employment based on their personal ethics.

Motivation is not solely about career advancement; people want to feel like they are adding value, meaning, and purpose within the company and beyond. They want to feel proud of their work.

Your company communications, both internal and external, need to be consistent and highlight the impact your organization is making.

Identify individual drives and goals

Motivation is different for each individual.

Some might be driven by a promotion, while others want to avoid boredom; they fear growing stale in their career. They want to be innovators as opposed to overseers. 

Take opportunities during scheduled check-ins, quarterly assessments, and year-end reviews to ask your middle managers about the vision for their careers and how that vision fits within both their current roles and potential future roles.

Whether they are striving for career advancement, or they want to expand their skillset, help them define what drives their passions and their individual goals, so your organization can create opportunities and projects to keep them interested and engaged in their work.

Develop multiple mentor relationships

Many organizations see the value in dedicated mentorship programs, but it’s important to remember that people can have many mentors who will help them with various aspects of their career.

Encourage your middle managers to establish and build different relationships and get multiple sources of input.

How do you progress your middle management?

Helping middle managers progress their career path involves three key factors:

Early identification

As you are working with middle management and attempting to identify those who could grow into even greater leadership roles, it’s important to establish your criteria and competency model.

A common challenge for organizations is identifying leadership potential early enough in an individual’s career path. Often by the time they have been identified, it’s too late to ensure they get enough diverse experience to fulfill those leadership qualifications.

Thorough assessment

Assessment still needs to be viewed as an internal employee investment. The hiring rigor of qualifications needs to be applied equally to all promotions. If you want to retain the majority of your employees, it goes without saying that you need to treat people fairly and consistently.

When you are assessing internal employees for a role, make sure to communicate that you are using the exact same standards as you would for external employees. Give every internal candidate feedback throughout the process, especially if they aren’t chosen for the position.

Use the assessment process as an additional development tool, so you can build upon that feedback and provide the resources or a coach to help your internal hire candidates continue to develop.

Continued training and leadership development

When internal hires are promoted, they are already embedded within the organization’s DNA. There tends to be an expectation they will hit the ground running when you might give more leeway to an external hire. But as we noted earlier, that can be a weird mirage of success; it becomes very easy to fail under the burden of presupposed expectations. What made an internal hire successful in their previous role will be different from the KPIs of their new role.

Give your internal hires the same grace period you would extend to external hires:

  • Provide formal onboarding. A deliberate onboarding process formalizes the need for new behaviors; too often, it’s perceived as training that’s only necessary for external hires. Remember your internal hires need it as well.
  • Undergo the exercise of stakeholder mapping, so they understand their potential impact and influence. Don’t assume they will already know based off their previous position.
  • Conduct a formal listening tour, even if they are already familiar with stakeholders and staff. This gives everyone a chance to get to know them in their new position and allows more freedom to ask questions and collect data.
  • Check on their calendar. Make sure they have set up regular meetings with peers and quarterly meetings with stakeholders.
  • Ask what they need and what leadership could be doing better.

Leadership also has to ensure the proper amount of focus is being put on strategic change and initiatives. If you want to create a coaching culture where there’s mutual team accountability, you need to create processes to support that philosophy.

Next Steps

Below are some questions to consider as you reexamine your current leadership development program:

Early Identification of Leaders

  • Do you know what “good” looks like at your organization?
  • Do you have a clear idea of what your leadership pipeline looks like?
  • Have you communicated that back to your managers so they can reflect on feedback?
  • Are you looking at how results are achieved and paying attention to cross-functional aspects of the role?
  • How do managers treat not only their own, but other teams, sections, and divisions within the organization?

Assessing Their Success

  • Are your middle managers as dedicated to positive reinforcement as they are to constructive feedback?
  • Are they instituting an internal coaching culture?
  • How do your middle managers show up in team meetings? Do they speak 80% of the time, when they should be speaking 10%?

Development & Progress

  • Are you utilizing talent mapping to forecast hiring needs?
  • Have you defined clear paths to career development and growth?
  • Do the company’s growth goals support all employees?
  • How are you creating opportunities for current employees who didn’t receive a promotion?
  • Are you providing formal onboarding processes for internal hires?
  • Should you use onboarding coaches to enhance and build employee capabilities as they move into new positions?
  • Are you emphasizing the importance of strategic initiatives and creating time and space for your leaders to focus on those goals?

At the end of the day, retaining your employees through leadership development is good risk management. You want to develop a deep bench of leaders that your organization can use to propel its growth and ultimately plot its succession plan. If you have any questions about retaining and promoting middle management or leadership development, please do not hesitate to reach out to us here.  

Copyright OrgShakers: The global HR consultancy for workplace transformation founded by David Fairhurst in 2020

by Gary Payne, Robert Satterwhite, and Ann Wheeler

Employee retention is a hot topic for 2023.

As economic instability continues, organizations will need to lean on leaders across all levels to maintain stability, profitability, and institutional knowledge.

In a Fall 2022 report from Slack’s Future Forum, 10,677 survey respondents from the global workforce reported an increase in burnout; it rose 8% from May to August 2022. Among US workers, the numbers were quite drastic – burnout rose to 47%.

Two of every five US respondents said they were burnt out, and the highest number of those respondents were middle managers.

These numbers should provide a wake-up call because, as you will see below, middle managers play a vital role in any organization.

Why is it important to develop and retain middle managers?

Middle managers are your connecting leaders.

They often serve as:

  • Liaisons between supervised employees and leadership overseeing the flow of ideas, strategy, and progress within and across an organization
  • Change agents who drive employee initiatives and build organizational culture
  • Team builders also heavily involved in the hiring process
  • Keepers of detail-oriented, institutional knowledge

Middle managers know what motivates their team. They help people answer, “Why do I matter to the company?” and help them see how their role fits within the overall vision.

A very savvy manager is the one who knows your employees best and has the most impact over their experience with the company. You often hear the saying, “Employees don’t leave companies, they leave managers,” but the inverse is also true. When a strong middle manager leaves an organization, some of their direct employees tend to follow, and your talent losses increase even further.

Why is middle management so stressful?

Middle management often operates on the front lines of organizational change, which demands a taxing balance of rigor and flexibility. They are the ones who are tasked with handling more of the honest, direct conversations that happen in work environments.

For example, during COVID-19, middle managers were responsible for helping others adjust to remote work environments. And when companies chose to institute return-to-office policies, it was middle managers who had to work through the details of employees’ schedules.

In a recent survey conducted by Odgers Berndtson US, out of the 606 survey respondents, 41% wanted to retain the option of a hybrid work environment as opposed to fully remote work or in-office. Imagine you are a middle manager who knows hybrid work is popular among employees, but leadership has decided it wants everyone in-office full time, and now you must deliver the news.

Middle managers are the ones who implement policies, even if those policies are unpopular with employees, while they continue to remain the primary motivators for their teams.

To add an additional level of pressure, while middle managers are often the ones you call upon during a crisis, they still have to think about new strategic initiatives and big picture perspectives—even if there’s not enough time to do so.

Lack of leadership development

Internal hires often seem like a no-brainer. Your organization retains that employee’s loyalty and commitment and the knowledge about systems, process, and customers that is important to success. You have rewarded your employee and shown the rest of the company potential career paths; if people work hard and meet expectations, you will provide possibilities.

And yet, so often, internal hires who take on new roles struggle with the responsibilities then leave.

Individual contributors, particularly at the middle management level, will excel and get promoted, but their targeted skillset still remains that of an individual contributor. They need to learn to move away from the trigger response of a “fix it” mindset and learn how to delegate and promote team accountability. However, they are often not provided with the development and training they need.

When middle managers are promoted without training, they are being set up to fail, at which point your organization loses both the leadership role and the individual contributor skills you initially valued.

What makes a middle level manager successful?

Some important skills for successful middle managers are:

Resolve conflict

A middle manager needs to handle, address, and transform conflict.

They can take a conflict and translate it into a productive discussion about individual and team growth.

It’s important to note how middle managers set the tone for these types of conversations. If they remain calm and present the ideas as part of a development discussion, then the feedback generally will be received in the same way.

Embody organizational values and reinforce positive behaviors

Middle managers must possess a deep understanding of your organization’s values and choose to embody behaviors clearly linked to those values. A leader who can translate values into expected behaviors helps develop and build your organization’s culture.

Middle managers oversee the behaviors that get rewarded, so it’s important they are able to reinforce those behaviors both with their own actions and among their teams.

Agility and coaching skills

The art and science of putting together an effective team is complex. Middle managers must develop alternative options, understand, and meet metrics, and even identify new key performance indicators (KPIs) as teams change and grow.

Leadership agility is key to middle manager success.

A huge part of that flexibility is knowing how to coach and develop the team’s capabilities to bring out the best attributes and efficiency.

Keep in mind, there’s a big difference between mentors and coaches. Mentors do a lot of talking and teaching; they relay their own experiences and make suggestions. Coaching is about listening and asking questions.

In the second part of our piece, we will be discussing how employers can help motivate middle managers and grow their skills. In the meantime, if you have any burning questions, you can get in touch with us here.

Copyright OrgShakers: The global HR consultancy for workplace transformation founded by David Fairhurst in 2020

It is no secret that the workforce is changing, and with these changes comes a sharper focus on attraction and retention strategies. But between flexible working schedules and varying benefit schemes, employers are overlooking a key process that can help optimize their ability to secure the talent they have – management training.

Managers play a vital role in the creation of a positive workplace culture and engaging with employee concerns. They are the ‘connecting leaders’ for helping to build relationships between those at the top and bottom of the hierarchy. Ensuring that they are properly equipped to take on this role can help an organization thrive, as many potential problems can be avoided by strengthening the company at its managerial roots.

To begin with, leaders need to know how to go beyond the words of their company’s mission statement. While having a clear statement is excellent for highlighting what the business’s aims and values are, they need to be put into practice. Managers must know how to demonstrate these principles in their approaches and enact them in real-time to increase the trust staff place in them. By building this trust, organizations are more likely to increase retention rates, which can also reflect positively on their reputation when recruiting future staff.

Secondly, there is now an expectation for managers to have more personal and tailored relationships with employees. The rise of a carpe diem ideology post-pandemic has resulted in people wanting to make every day count by finding purpose in their work. Leaders have to be properly equipped with contemporary strategies to help remind them of this purpose in order to sustain engagement levels.

The needs of the workforce have shifted since the pandemic, and managers will require a refreshed set of training to keep up with this. By doing so, they mitigate the risk of employees quitting due to uncaring and uninspiring leaders, which was the third highest reason (34%) for people leaving their job according to a study by McKinsey.

Additionally, there also needs to be a focus on the retention of managers themselves. The CEB conducted research which found that 60% of all new managers fail within their first 24 months – and the main reason cited for this was a lack of proper training. Leadership roles come with a lot of responsibility, and so companies that prioritise giving their new managers the right tools and skills will help them seize all that the opportunity has to offer.

It is a chain reaction. Equip managers on how to engage with their people properly and they will avoid falling into the twenty-four-month trap. And having a good manager leads to a workforce who are engaged because they feel understood by their leader(s). Culture matters, and having a positive one focused on developing people, including mangers, will benefit colleagues and businesses.

Avoidance of legal issues is the final benefit. With the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) set to become firmer when filing discrimination cases against employers and overall trends in filing of claims, having managers who can correctly engage with employee concerns is more crucial than ever. Leaders who are perceived as approachable will be trusted with queries, and this helps avoid the use of third-party channels like the EEOC.

Navigating the heightened sensitivity that has developed post-pandemic is a delicate thing, and so requires a refreshed and expert approach. Having successfully worked with clients to build programmes that can identify and mitigate these issues, we see positive results in productivity, culture and risk management. Investing in managers is worth the expense.

Copyright OrgShakers: The global HR consultancy for workplace transformation founded by David Fairhurst in 2020

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