Six golden rules for developing middle managers

Middle management is a difficult role to inhabit. It requires a high level of operational knowledge and the ability to communicate and manage teams effectively.

But these managers are finding themselves under increased pressure, perhaps due to businesses stripping back their operations in the wake of 2008’s recession and having fewer managers to bear the load.

Consequently, they now have to oversee the day-to-day operations of the business and ensure the vision of the organisation is properly executed in line with its goals, while meeting the requirements of senior management.

Although you might not feel as though you have the time to wait for a candidate to mature in the role, when its demands are taken into consideration, your company may not be fortunate enough to hire in fully-formed middle managers.

In any case, it is more cost-effective to promote from within than to bring in a new hire, but this will almost certainly mean they will need development to expand their skillsets and ensure that they are able to handle difficult situations to push their team to achieve even more. So how can you develop a middle manager so he or she reaches that level?

• Provide formal training. Your company should already have a fully-implemented training and development programme, more and more businesses across the UK now recognise the importance of investment in L&D, so there is increasing provision being made for its implementation by boards and senior management. But if it doesn’t, consider implementing a programme or investing in one-off training courses designed to introduce the manager into their new role. Targeted learning is often the quickest and most effective way of developing a candidate, so an internal or external learning period, taking place before the candidate begins in the role or on-the-job, is a sound decision to make, especially given the broad and varied range of new responsibilities that the manager will have to deal with.

• Build up their competencies. A middle manager, as previously noted, needs to be able to handle a wide range of different responsibilities, so their competencies have to be developed. Leading change, identifying and managing resistance and ensuring that deadlines are met are just some of the tasks that middle managers will have to take on. In many cases, they will only be able to develop through gaining relevant experience, so some companies may choose to give them greater levels of responsibility and authority before asking them to manage a team. If they appear to be struggling under the weight of expectation, it should be simple to take tasks off their hands.

Don’t expect too much too soon. For many candidates, the step up to middle manager (perhaps from a junior or far more inexperienced level) will be a testing one. Unless they’re unusually confident in their abilities, they will require time to find their feet in the new position, and putting pressure on them to succeed immediately will not help. If, after a year, there is little or no sign they have begun to grow into their role, then there may be cause to intensify training initiatives and introduce other techniques to kick-start development.

• Make your expectations clear. The boundaries and specific responsibilities of a middle management position can be unclear, so senior management needs to be as specific as possible on what they expect from those at middle management level. They almost need to produce a job specification showing roles and responsibilities during different periods so middle managers have a clear scope of work that they know they have to cover.

• Focus on communication. Communication is important in all areas of business, so it’s a skill everyone, especially middle managers, needs to be strong in. They need to communicate with senior management and with their direct reports on a daily basis, meaning the chain of communication goes both up and down from where they sit. This is where information has the greatest potential to go missing, so ensuring middle managers know what they should be sharing and with whom they should be sharing it is a priority during training.

• Establish key performance indicators. Teams and individuals should have key performance indicators that determine whether they are doing well or not, and middle managers should be no different. Setting KPIs will highlight which areas of their development and general work need improvement and help them to become better-rounded managers.

Matt Driscoll is an learning and development consultant focusing on leadership and management at Thales L&D

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