Article (October-2021)


Middle managers are drivers of productivity and not the Work-Horses

Lopamudra Banerjee

Designation : -   Head - Human Resources

Organization : -  Carrier Midea India & Deputy Director SE Asia


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

LB Middle-level managers are the backbone of organisations as they act as the vital link between an organisation's senior leadership and the ground personnel. These managers are responsible for the implementation of the organisation's strategy on a day-to-day basis. However, they're expected to switch between the roles of "boss" and "employee" constantly, which can be difficult. They're required to deal with tactical day-to-day obstacles and specific complaints from employees, but they must also have an understanding of the larger picture from the senior management. It's a difficult balancing act, and these opposing forces often leave a middle manager exhausted.

Today's middle managers are forced to work in environments that are constantly changing and are complex. The transition between doing things and getting things done can be a fine balance and if totally unprepared, can also be a disaster. So it has often been seen that an outstanding Area Sales Manager, an individual contributor, can be a failure in a role where s/he is expected to manage a team. This is because very often, many managers are never given the tools or training to manage teams. They typically rise through the ranks and then-all of a sudden-are given a team to manage and are expected to do so effectively. As a result they struggle with giving feedback, setting expectations, developing their team, and managing conflict. Learning to manage a multi-generational workforce brings its own set of challenges to the table as well.

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

LB Middle managers often get the short end of the stick. They have smaller roles with large amounts of responsibility, and sometimes, they don't seem to get the full credit they deserve.

Middle Managers are often told about the strategy, business goals, metrics and expectations, but are rarely involved in the design stage. They can be perceived as the implementers rather than the designers. Also organisations neglect middle managers by rolling out changes without first informing them. Employees usually look to their immediate supervisor for answers. If they are not in the loop, they end up defending something they do not understand, creating confusion and ambiguity in the system. 

Organisations often fail to recognize managers for strong people leadership and react when it is too late. Middle managers can fall short because they are not given training on how to engage a team, coach and develop their people. It is important to integrate training and mentorship to position middle management for success.

Middle managers have a pulse of the organisation since they have a direct line of sight to the real challenges at the front line of the business, and the connection to senior leadership. They can advise on necessary changes to keep the business growing and keeping it sustainable with highly engaged teams. It is therefore, important to listen intently to their feedback and recommendations as they play the role of influencers as well in the organisation. It is essential to integrate the responsibilities of the middle management to wider organisational objectives to overcome the sense of alienation, and support the fact of middle managers being a vital component in the running of the business.

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?

LB I don't agree that the middle management is responsible for their plight. Organisations have a responsibility to ensure that the middle management which is the backbone of an organisation thrives. The first and most important mechanism I feel is continuous and transparent communication. This helps clarify a lot of issues and establishes a sense of purpose and belonging. All new Middle managers must be given a mentor who can help them transition into the role. It is also important not to micro manage the middle managers so they can effectively implement strategies independently. It may be useful if there is a forum where middle managers can come together and discuss their everyday challenges and concerns and learn from their peers who have, or are, struggling with similar issues. These forums could be anchored around a topic (e.g. how to give feedback).

Redefining the role of middle managers as drivers of productivity and engagement, rather than 'work-horses' who are expected to do everything, can also help the business ensure it gets the best out of its people and doesn't burn out middle managers.

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