Article (October-2021)


Middle managers should contribute to leadership pipeline

R N Nalbalwar

Designation : -   Sr. VP Employee Relations

Organization : -  Aditya Birla Group-Chemical Business


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

RN Middle-level HR managers face a few riddles and, in my opinion, there are 5 main questions that need to be answered :

1. Are we hiring specialists for generalist profiles?

2. Are we overselling the role while hiring while the realities are different?

3. Are the middle managers accepting the role of middle-level HR managers as a career choice? Or are these roles being used as the stepping stone in a stop gap arrangement?

4. Are the B schools teaching students the difference between manufacturing and other sectors?

5. Are the issues really existing? Or is the unhappiness arising out of comparisons, creating a sense of riddle?

If we analyse these questions, we would find that wherever there are riddles and unhappiness among middle level HR managers, we find partially affirmative answers to the above five questions or, otherwise, 100% correct answer to any one of the above.

Modern B schools develop professionals who are expected to be HR specialists specifically, in the domain of L&D, OD, OE, TM, PMS, C&B and so on. However, when professionals begin working in the manufacturing sector, they are required to handle day to day issues, grievances, employee concerns, interpersonal issues, manager-subordinate conflicts etc. If they believe that this is not their role, problems arise. Within the specific verticals of HR, it is not necessarily the conception, ideation, modelling and "thou shall comply" attitude. Instead, it entails persuading stakeholders and customers, understanding their needs and collaborating with the business managers. If the second half of this paragraph is explained to the middle managers by the business leaders and reporting managers, riddle may not exist in the first place.

If the concerns are around "growth"- this phrase would also need to be decoded. The middle managers should understand that a bigger title is not necessarily a bigger role. As an officer of the personnel department, we have had freedom to negotiate the salaries of new recruits. However, today, in some organisations AVP talent acquisition organizes the interviews! If the bigger title is misunderstood with growth, the middle lot is likely to have frustration. Although many organisations today have started giving bigger designations, this would also become a regular practice in upcoming times.

Similarly, HR professionals who are willing to work for a longer period in the manufacturing sector are mentally prepared for the environment and growth prospects in comparison to those who came into manufacturing sector reluctantly and are seeking an early exit.

In conclusion, if the role holder chooses a role in manufacturing after giving due thoughts and seeking clarity of the role requirements coupled with its comparatively slower pace of growth, there are negligible chances of issues afterwards.

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?

RN I do not agree that middle managers are less visible, less appreciated or less cared about. In fact, management is well aware that it is becoming increasingly difficult, costly and irrelevant to hire the top HR deck laterally. It is also true that employees who have progressed from rank and file in manufacturing sector are more culturally suitable, adaptable and cost effective. If these are the realities, there is no question that corporations do not recognize the existence and value contributions of middle management.

Furthermore, if the top deck is vacant, the function may not be able to fabricate many growth interventions. Similarly, if the middle management deck is vacant, the business activities may come to stand still. The very existence of the interpersonal dependence, inter functional dependence and the team contribution starts from the middle level and not from the top.

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?

RN In contrary to what has been stated above, let us accept the fact that all middle managers are not having issues around their roles and responsibilities and certainly not regarding their future career plans.

Even if we assume that some of them have issues, those issues can be bucketed into following four areas :

1. Insufficient exposure/non-clarity of the role.

2. Less than required guidance or mentorship.

3. Non-cooperative teams.

4. Learnings other than my area of influence.

If we take any of the above partially or fully affirmative, then it is not only the role holder responsible for this, it is the job of their managers also to ensure that such issues do not exist. If the manager is aware of the possibilities which would hinder the holistic development of the talent or the preparation of any role holder for higher responsibilities, they would ensure that such issues do not emerge.

At the same time, it is the individual role holder's responsibility to look after their personal contributions as well as their professional development. If we focus on point 3 above, issues regarding team work would more be a responsibility of the role holder rather than their managers, but other points would be more relevant from the manager's perspective. It is widely acknowledged that the combined efforts of peers, superiors and subordinates can contribute more to the professional development of any role holder than the manager alone can. If a person is willing to learn, take initiatives, innovate, push limits and eager to develop new skills, there will undoubtedly be certain people in any organisation who will help, support and guide them even though it is not part of their KRA.

The best example of this that I can give is a manager separated for poor performance from organisation A takes higher responsibility in some other organisation and becomes their blue-eyed boy. We have seen many such examples in industry. Their failure in organisation A cannot be attributed to only himself/only manager/only team/only culture/ or only circumstances. Any state of any professional from either a bucket of success or failure is a result of many things as stated herein above.

In conclusion, I wish to state that not all role holders are individually responsible for the situation in which they find themselves.

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