According to the ASTD (American Society for Training & Development), the ranks of middle managers have significantly declined over the past two years while their responsibilities have continued to grow. No surprise there, since we’re all being asked to do more with less.
But here’s the eye-opener: a recent survey by ASTD of 2,000 mid-level managers found that only 11% felt well prepared to handle their increased responsibilities and challenges over the next two years. That means that almost nine out of every 10 mid-level managers lack confidence in their own ability to fulfill their job responsibilities! It’s no wonder that many of today’s senior executives worry that the next generation of business leaders lacks the ability to think strategically, lead change, create a vision, and rally others around that vision.
These are all critical ingredients of senior leadership. But the one that really stands out for me is the inability to think strategically, which I define as “the ability to look ahead and anticipate opportunities and threats while successfully managing the day-to-day tasks and responsibilities.” In today’s complex world, this critical skill needs to be taught at all levels of the organization, and especially at the mid-manager level.
Middle managers occupy a unique rung on the corporate ladder. They must have the big-picture skills to understand what senior management is trying to accomplish so they can help translate those strategies into realistic action plans. Their position also requires a strong focus on the day-to-day stuff that needs to happen in order to achieve the high-level objectives. When middle managers lack the ability to think strategically, the organization may get better and more efficient at what it currently does, but it won’t be able to quickly adapt to or stay ahead of changing market conditions.
Here’s where the Inform, Inspire, and Engage process that I teach can help.
Informing middle managers starts with sharing the why, what, and how of your strategic plan. Then discuss and get clear on individual roles in meeting the goals necessary to achieve the plan. In particular, make sure your managers have clarity around the organization’s destination points (where you’re going), strategic priorities (areas of focus for the organization), and key initiatives (what you will do to get there). Your managers must not only understand these areas, but also be able to clearly communicate them to the people on their teams, departments and projects.
Inspiring involves making sure employees feel like they’re making a difference in their individual jobs and through the organization as a whole. This becomes easier when employees understand and buy in to the mission, direction, and destination of the organization. Ask yourself questions like:
- Have I connected our mission to a better future for our organization?
- What customer (internal/ external) feedback can I share that supports what we are doing and why?
- Do we regularly ask our midlevel managers for feedback on our strategic goals and objectives?
- Are we clear on what’s in it for them if we achieve those goals and objectives?
- What ongoing management processes can I create to keep our middle managers informed and inspired?
Engaging consists of the actions (not just words) you take that encourage people to invest all their skills and abilities in their jobs. This is especially critical for today’s mid-level managers who often feel overwhelmed, overworked, and under-appreciated for what they get done.
To engage your middle managers:
- Keep them focused on your definition of winning by constantly communicating why you will win. This is especially important when unexpected change throws your strategy or your market for a loop.
- Get great at giving (and receiving) feedback. Nothing makes people feel more engaged than having one-on-one time with their boss so that they can hear what they need to hear and be heard on what they need to say.
- Check in with your managers on a regular basis to monitor their progress. Make sure all individual goals remain aligned with company goals.
- Give plenty of recognition, both public and private, for outstanding performance.
Having middle managers who lack confidence in their own abilities is no way to run a business. Help your next generation of senior executives gain the confidence and skill sets they need to succeed by teaching them to think strategically and by informing, inspiring, and engaging at every step of the way.