8 Golden Rules for Developing Middle Managers

What Sort of Leader are You?

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.

However, 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, middle managers now have to oversee the day-to-day operations of the business and ensure that 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 in a position (either structurally or financially) to hire in fully-formed middle managers.

It is certainly more cost-effective to promote from within than to bring in a new hire, but this will almost definitely mean that they will need developing so they can expand their skillsets and you can ensure that they are able to handle difficult situations and push their team to achieve even more.

Developing Middle Managers

How can you develop a middle manager so that 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.

Give Them the Tools to Engage Team Members

The engagement of employees is a vital aspect of a business’s success, and middle managers play an important part in maintaining and strengthening that engagement.

They will need assistance and support from senior management to do so in terms of establishing a company culture, but a lot will be down to them alone. Transparency with regard to work, results and team performance, for example, is something that has to predominantly come from middle managers who are more involved in the day-to-day minutiae of the team’s activities – employees will subsequently feel trusted and confident about their place and role within the organisation.

Focus on Communication

Communication is important in all areas of business, so it’s a skill that everyone, especially the middle managers, needs to be strong in. They need to communicate with senior management and with their direct reports on a daily basis, meaning that 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 that middle managers know what they should be sharing and with whom they should be sharing it is a priority during training.

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 Necessarily 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 that they have begun to grow into their roles, then there may be cause to intensify training initiatives and introduce other techniques to kick-start a manager’s development.

Make Your Expectations Clear

However, the boundaries and specific responsibilities of a middle management position can be unclear, so senior management do need to be as specific as possible on what they expect in the short and long-term from those at middle management level.

They almost need to produce a job specification for those already in the role, showing roles and responsibilities during different periods so middle managers have a clear scope of work that they know they have to cover at any one time.

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 ultimately help them to become better-rounded managers in a shorter space of time. As noted above, though, will not benefit anyone to rush – concentrate on getting the basics right, rather than trying to run before you can crawl.

Walk the Walk

Finally, it’s important that you practice what you preach. One of the easiest ways for a middle manager to develop themselves is to study how senior, more experienced leaders conduct themselves on a daily basis in different situations and around staff members of different levels.

Consider what you might improve in your own approach – your bad behaviours might be picked up and carried through different levels of the organisation. This will enable you as a senior manager to ensure that your own conduct befits your position, thus reflecting better on the company and those around you.

Further Reading from Skills You Need

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About the Author

Matt Driscoll

Matt Driscoll is an L&D Consultant focusing on Leadership and Management at Thales L&D.

Matt has over 13 years’ experience in learning and development, he is genuinely passionate about helping people improve themselves.