How Middle-Management is at Risk

Why middle-management is essential for business survival and the risks you run of if you lose or alienate them.

The Challenges of Middle ManagementMiddle management.  Often described as the ‘backbone’ of the company, they provide the continuity across the business and the key people for getting things done; communicating and resolving problems up, down and across the line; translating strategy into action; leading key operational areas; have considerable expertise and experience within the business; providing linkages between senior executives and front-line staff; and are implementing and responding to change.

As such, middle management is crucial to the on-going success and survival of the business.  Senior executives are starting to appreciate their role and the impact of their work, but at a time when it becoming harder to develop and retain middle management.

Middle Management Stress & Turnover

In a recent poll by Lane4 in the UK (July 2012) more than 90% of workers believed that the vast majority of workplace stress was falling on middle management, and two in five (39%) of middle management reported that they were under severe stress.  As such, many mid-level managers are dissatisfied and would like to leave their current organization.   In harder times it is those middle managers who are your best and who perform well who find it easiest to find new roles and new opportunities.

This has several impacts on your business: firstly, the business will lose its top middle management talent, this will put an increase burden on those who are left behind; secondly, the exodus of mid-level talent seriously compromises the business’ future  leadership pipeline and its ability to have the right people in the right place to enable the business to grow and develop in the future; and finally those mid-level managers remaining will be the low-performers, who are more likely to be disengaged and who have “quit and stayed”.  All of this means that business’ ability to survive and thrive – especially in challenging times – is seriously compromised.

The Impact of Mid-Management Turnover

One of the current major growth challenges facing CEOs is the lack of key talent to enable them to grow the business.  This is exacerbated with the turnover of good mid-level manager as it compromises the business’ ability to execute the CEO’s strategy and drive results and outcomes.

Furthermore, the costs of middle management turnover are also high.  A common rule of thumb is to assess the cost of a middle manager to the bottom-line at one-and-a-half to two times their annual salary.  Assuming an average salary of $125,000 then this could mean $250,000 off your bottom line.  Alternatively, look at it in terms of the extra revenue you need to achieve just to stand still – assuming your net profit is 10%, then that is a further $2.5m of revenue required!

Practically, I think this heuristic is conservative.  Once you take into account the corporate knowledge, experience, expertise and insights that have been developed over a number of years you are looking at the loss of a very valuable contributor.  Furthermore, to recruit someone who is an equivalent is both difficult and expensive to do.

Causes of Mid-Management Stress

Middle management is under increasing stress for a number of reasons.  They are the people who have to lay off staff when the company downsizes (or more cynically “right-sizes”), in an environment of poor morale, having to do more with less, with little or no increase in salary or benefits whilst being responsible for more, a reduced opportunity for career progression, dealing with people who like them are worried and scared, and frequently being seen as an “unwanted layer” and at a high risk of being laid off themselves (often having had to lay off others first).

So what do we do?

Dealing with the Problem

In challenging times we need to maintain our middle management.  In economies which are struggling the senior executives need to work with and engage with their middle management even more closely.  It is at the mid-levels that the most important projects are, and reducing their resourcing is nigh on suicidal.  If the level of responsibility for middle management is extended, and their capacity and resources is limited or reduced, then you need to invest in their developing the necessary capabilities.  If this is not done then senior management will be faced with a “frozen” middle management compounded by cycles of low morale and low engagement.

Companies need to be resilient – leaders need to provide clear direction, they need engage the middle management and rebuild trust, and in doing so enable them to engage with their reports and teams in turn.  If you cut out the middle, then you are just left with the head and tail of the business – unable to do the necessary work effectively, and a corpse all but in name.

It may seem counter-intuitive but now is the time to invest in your middle management – this will pay off in terms of loyalty, results and longer-term growth.  Treat your key people as an investment, not a cost to be cut but people to be valued, developed and through whom you can achieve leverage and significant returns.

So what are you going to do?

Share

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

How Trust Drives Results

What do high-performing organizations focus on as opposed from low-performing organizations, and what differentiates how they do it?

Businesses are under pressure, there is no doubt about that – but what are businesses focusing on and why in these difficult times?  A recent report from Interaction Associates (Building Trust in 2012) found the top 3 priorities for business to be:

  1. Top line/revenue growth
  2. Profit growth
  3. Improvements to Productivity and Efficiency

No surprise here – but what is interesting is the way in which high performing organizations (those whose net profit grew more than 5% over the last year) and low-performing organizations (those under 5% over the last year or shrank) approached this.

High performing organizations focused on achieving this by focusing on the people aspects of the business, these include:

  • Customer loyalty and retention
  • Attraction, deployment, and development of talent
  • Business agility (speed, flexibility, adaptability to change)

Low-performing organizations focused on:

  • Improvements to productivity & efficiency
  • Cost reduction/becoming more efficient
  • Business agility (speed, flexibility, adaptability to change)

The focus here is more on the systems and processes to drive results and create agility, rather than having the right customers and right people to drive both revenue and profit growth (as with high performers).

So what does this mean?  Greater growth and profitability is driven by people. Systems, process improvements, and cost reductions can contribute towards growth – the only problem is that there is only so many times that you can cut the lawn before it starts to die off.  Conversely, focusing your attention on business and resources on the right customers and talent, rather than squandering it in a shotgun approach, enables you to grow the business with no limit on the upside.  For this, you need to inspire trust.

The key question then is this: are you trustworthy?  More to the point do your customers and staff think you are trustworthy?  What do you think you are – honestly?  And how would you assess how trustworthy you are? Share your thoughts here.

Share

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

3 Steps to Help Your Managers Prepare for Difficult Conversations

In times of challenges and uncertainty, supervisors might be experiencing an increase in the number of difficult conversations with their staff. These could include delivering bad news about an employee’s job, informing staff about work restructuring, or discussing other complicated and stressful work situations.

  1. Preparing for the conversation

Before going into the conversation, ask yourself several key questions. Consult with peers, and other appropriate resources to be sure you’re comfortable with the answers.

Key questions include:

  • What is my purpose for having the conversation?
  • What do I hope to accomplish?
  • What is the ideal outcome?
  • What assumptions am I making about the other person’s reaction to the conversation?
  • What “hot buttons” exist – for me and for the other person?
  • How is my attitude toward the conversation contributing to the intended outcome?

Practice the conversation. You can mentally rehearse it in your mind, or practice it out loud with your supervisor, Employee Assistance Program, or Human Resources.

  1. Holding the conversation

A successful outcome will depend on two things: what you say and how you say it. How you approach the conversation and how you behave will greatly influence what you say and how it is perceived.

Acknowledge any emotional energy that might be fueled by the conversation. The emotional content is as important as the facts.

Keep aligned with the purpose of your conversation. Don’t be distracted by side tracks.

Suggestions for opening the conversation include:

  • “I’d like to talk to you about. . .”
  • “I want to better understand your point of view. Can we talk more about. . .”
  • “I’d like to talk about ________. I think we may have different ideas on how to ______.”

 

  1. Working Toward a Successful Outcome

Approach the conversation with an attitude of inquiry and discovery. Set aside assumptions and try to learn as much as possible about the other person’s point of view. Let the employees complete what they have to say without interruption.

Acknowledge that you’ve heard what the other person is trying to say. The best way to do this is to repeat their argument back to them. You don’t have to agree. Saying “it sounds like this issue is very important to you” doesn’t mean that you have to decide the way they’d like you to.

Advocate for your position without diminishing theirs. State your position concisely and clarify points they may not have understood.

End with problem solving. Find mutual areas where you can agree on solutions and identify what steps need to be taken. If there is no common ground, return to inquiry.

To view or download a PDF version of this blog click here

Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at andrew.cooke@business-gps.com.au

If you found this article of use or interest please don’t hesitate to share it with others.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.