Monday, October 17, 2011

Improving Middle Management Effectiveness - Part #2

Picking up where I left off last Monday, the role of the middle manager is mission critical to more and more organizations. Yet, rather than take them for granted, more and more companies seek to improve the performance of the these key people. Last week, I explained the importance of teaching them active listening skills. This week I want to focus on a few more ideas.

First, help middle managers understand that it is important to welcome new ideas and perspectives. Too often, I have witnessed middle managers and even senior managers working with middle managers shut down different perspectives when they are not their own. This destroys personal trust at the team and the individual level but also can damage strategic level trust. The key is to welcome new ideas and be open to listening to them. Too many times, we manage by ego rather than by utilizing the strategic nexus.

Second, invite feedback but clarify the non-negotiable issues and the process of decision-making. Too many times, people use feedback and constructive criticism in the same sentence. Some are even calling it constructive feedback. While I prefer feedback and others prefer constructive criticism, the keys to giving feedback begins when we realize that relationships matter. Speaking and listening respectfully plus sharing observations rather than judgements makes a huge difference.

Next, it is important to review expectations and assumptions on a regular basis. Think Q1 in the Q12 from the book, First, Break All Rules and realize that many people do not understand what is expected of them. Finally, when giving feedback, be prepared and organized in your thoughts; this yields clarity rather than reactionary actions. When we as managers and leaders check our own intentions when asking for feedback and check our own intentions before giving it, we do a much better job of it.

Third, remember clarity and ambiguity do not co-exist peacefully. Right now, many organizations and many mid-level managers are suffering from constant change, economic uncertainty, and strategic ambiguity. We forget some days that mid-level managers want black and white answers to their questions, and right now the common response to their questions is the words, “it depends” This answer results in tremendous frustration and anxiety for middle managers.

Therefore, we as senior leaders need to eliminate strategic blindness and context blindness. Remember strategic blindness happens when we do not see our strategy as a whole organization, and instead only execute the parts of the strategic plan that we like. Context blindness happens because we can see the whole organization but we can not see the environmental context within which the whole organization is working and moving through. These are normal problems that mid-level managers have and with regular coaching and feedback can be corrected.

Finally, we need to continue to explore and clarify decision-making. Too many senior leaders and too many mid-level managers do not comprehend the difference between operational decision-making and strategic decision-making. Most think it is the same thing. While the mission, vision and core values may be the same, the critical elements that are considered are different in strategic and operational decision-making.

This week and this fall continue to help your mid-level managers and supervisors understand the importance of welcoming new ideas, inviting and giving feedback plus clarifying decision-making. All of this will make a difference when it comes to executing better in 2012.

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

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