Monday, May 17, 2010

Improving Mid-level Management - part #1

THEME: Spring 2010 From Vision to Action Roundtable Report

FOCUS: Improving Mid-level Management - part #1

Monday morning: May 17, 2010

Dear friends,

I almost had an accident this winter from laughing so hard while listening to the radio. Someone was explaining the need to get rid of supervisors and mid-level managers in order to save money. They explained that if kindergarden teachers could supervise 25 children, then an adult should be able to supervise 14 - 20 adults, especially with the benefit of the internet to help them. Once I regained control of myself, I realized that we truly have a love/hate relationship with mid-level management.

In the 1980’s, mid-level managers were disempowered and often disengaged. The result was a bloated bureaucracy in most corporations, where everything had to be run up the organizational chart before a decision could be made. In the early 1990’s, empowering mid-level managers to make decisions and act according to mission, vision and core values was a huge push. By the mid to late 90s, we began to eliminate mid-level managers and flatten the organization for speed, growth and profitability. At the turn of the century, the process continued and the focus was on efficiency and cost savings. Then, in the mid 2003-2005 range, we started hiring mid-level managers again. We recognized that they were actually helpful and a key to success. Through the decades, we came to understand that effective mid-level managers were the translators of strategy who operationalized the big ideas, and also were a critical conduit for feedback from the senior team to the front line and vice a versa.

If we seek to improve the effectiveness of mid-level managers while recognizing the aforementioned history, then we truly have to grasp that mid-level managers need to master two different and opposing skill sets. First, they must be strategic in nature and help position the organization for the future. This will involve learning how to plan ahead and to take the long view or big picture perspective. They also must purse growth and innovation which will involve knowing how to question status quo while encouraging new thinking.

At the exact same time that they are strategic, they also must be operational in nature. Here the focus is on achieving short term results. In this part of their job, they need to manage day to day details related to implementation, maximize efficiency by cutting costs and being selective about priorities, and finally, but not least, maintain some degree of order by getting things done using set policies, procedures and processes.

These opposing dualities are never easy to manage. The conflict between operations and strategy happen on a daily basis. Each moves at a different rate of speed. Before we hire any more mid-level managers and before we let go of any more mid-level managers, sit down with a single sheet of paper and write out what you expect a mid-level manager to do. Once the list is complete, define the skill sets needed to be successful. More times than not, you will discover that many mid-level managers struggle because they do not have the capacity to meet these expectations.

Have a marvelous week,


Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

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