Article (October-2021)


Middle management is the breathing mechanism for organisations

Harjeet Khanduja

Designation : -   Senior Vice President HR

Organization : -  Reliance Jio


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How do you decode the Middle Riddle? What are the most relevant issues involved with middle managers in the organisations?

HK How do we decode something which is not even coded? We are making an assumption here that the middle riddle is coded. It is not. It is right there in front of our eyes. Many times, we are not able to recognize and appreciate things that are too obvious. How many times we really appreciate our breathing mechanism for our survival. Still we cannot live without it. That is the first biggest issue with middle managers - they are the essentials which are easy to ignore.

The organisations that experienced extreme stress situations in the past, understand the importance of middle managers. Just like people under extreme stress find that breathing is much more than survival, it has a huge contribution to well being. The middle managers are more than the span breakers; they knit the cultural fabric of an organisation which has a visible impact on efficiency, effectiveness and ethics. This is the second biggest issue with middle managers - they are often seen as span breakers only, the necessary evil.

The third and the most important issue is that organisations underestimate the skills required for doing a middle manager job. At times, high performers without people skills are promoted to middle manager roles thinking that they will learn on the job. This not only reflects on the employee engagement scores of an organisation but also contributes to overall attrition. Proof of the pudding is that industry wide 51% of employees are disengaged and 13% are actively disengaged, as per the latest Gallup report.

Does the Corp Inc. recognise the existence and value of middle managers? If yes, why is it not visible and appreciated enough? If not, what reasons can you count upon?

HK This is human nature. We all know that exercise and healthy food are important. Yet junk food joints run at full capacity. Our families keep telling us to do exercise and eat healthy food. We know it's important but somehow that never comes up in our priority list. However when a mild heart attack happens and the doctor advises the same thing, which family has been advising for years, we start following a healthy lifestyle.

Same way, most of the companies understand the importance of middle managers and professional management practices. However these things remain at the bottom of the priority list, till the time companies undergo a crisis. It can be any kind of crisis. The most common is labour crisis. The management education in India came into existence with the establishment of Xavier's Labour Relations Institute (XLRI) in 1949.

In fact, when the whole industry goes through any kind of trauma, economic crisis or change, that time everyone desperately desires good management practices and strong middle managers.

Since the 2008 global crises, the numbers of IIMs have increased from 6 to 13. Then after demonetization and GST implementation, the IIM number increased from 13 to 20. This shows that Corp. Inc. has increased its appetite to absorb the quality managers.

As far as appreciation goes, how many times we appreciate our liver, kidney, spleen or abdomen for doing a good job. They are there. They are doing a good job. All the appreciation is for the head and the heart and the almighty God.

Do you think that the middle managers are self responsible for their misery or failure in the organisation? What can be the strategies to make them more competent?

HK I am a stage artist. When I stand on a stage, I ask people to clap for me. That gives me confidence that boosts my energy level that tells me people are engaged and that helps me to perform better on stage. Each and every artist needs appreciation to be a better artist. This is a virtuous cycle.

However this virtuous cycle can turn into a vicious cycle. If an artist performs on the stage and people boo the artist, the confidence of the artist goes down. It affects the art of the artist as well. Even when people do not react to the performance, as if the artist was not there, that breaks the confidence of the artist.

The middle managers are just like these artists. Their caliber can be developed through a CALIBRE program with a 7 pronged approach.

1.    Cross functional exposure to widen their horizon.

2.    Alignment with organisation objectives to improve effectiveness.

3.    Learning habits to be developed for upgrading the skill set based on changing the environment.

4.    Incentive for thinking creatively to grow the business.

5.    Business understanding should be improved so that they find it easy to earn incentive for growing the business.

6.    Reviewing skills to be imparted so that complementary skills like work allocation becomes even more effective.

7.    Empowerment is the icing on the cake. In fact, more than empowerment it is the feeling of empowerment that makes the CALIBRE program effective.

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