Middle managers are sandwiched. Now more than ever.

Middle managers are sandwiched. Now more than ever.

06 November 2020
Gerrit Sarens
Gerrit Sarens
  • Our Business Mentor Bart Briers kicks off: “Continuous strategic changes, business model transformations, customers demanding service levels, the shift from make-software to off-the-shelve solutions: it’s the middle manager who is always in the middle between executive plans and the people doing the job.”

  • Making the choice between what is important and what is urgent. That's a very important distinction where middle managers fail.

    Bart Briers
  • Increased pressure on middle management

  • The middle manager has always been sandwiched between those who decide on the strategy and those who execute. In a VUCA world and accelerated by Covid, C-level is not able anymore to look five years ahead and decide on a stable long-term road map. On the contrary, they change faster than ever the strategic direction to adapt to the changing environment. At the same time, middle managers are still busy with managing the execution of the previous decisions increasing the pressure on them.

  • Increased uncertainty for middle management

  • The middle manager’s primary job is to deliver operations on schedule, within budgets, and to customer’s specifications. Meanwhile, they are more than ever entrenched in all kinds of strategic projects. As a result, middle management is required to be more agile, more resilient in times where C-level direction and communication are often missing. The uncertainty grows amongst middle managers where to steer their teams.

  • The increased stress level for middle management

  • The middle manager’s agenda gets quickly congested creating lots of stress. Typical symptoms most middle managers will recognize: endless to-do lists, completely skewed work/life balance, over-emotional reactions on minor events, not knowing anymore what lives in your team, missed deadlines, avoiding questions and feedback, not telling the truth anymore,…

  • Our Business Mentors have four tips for middle managers

    1. Work more bottom-up towards C-level: give your genuine input and feedback to C-level not only on the status of ongoing implementations but also on the new strategic ideas C-level considers. C-level has to take decisions in very uncertain circumstances. They need your input more than ever as you are closer to the day-to-day reality and the end-user(s). Analyze the agenda of your meetings with C-level and check out ‘do I spend enough time on sharing my input and feedback on the way forward?
    2. Prioritize and dare to say no: decide together with C-level what’s important to focus on and what’s less important and stick to these priorities when you plan your agenda. If non-prior items pop up, dare to say ‘no’ and explain why. Ask yourself at the end of every working day: ‘did I spend at least 75% of my time on the priorities we have set?
    3. Book time in your agenda to connect with your team: make sure you spend enough time to simply connect with your team and/or individual team members. When connecting, don’t only focus on work, but also on personal and emotional aspects. Again, ask yourself at the and of every working day: ‘can I describe what lives in my team?
    4. Be fully transparent but admit when things are uncertain or unclear: share all information you have about the strategic direction but be honest when you don’t have the answer. Sometimes it is better to admit that you don’t know the answer than giving an unclear and unconvincing answer. A good test is to ask your team at least once per week: ‘do you know where we are going?’ and ‘what is still unclear to you?
  • How to start? An Ambits Business Mentor is always a good first step

  • You recognize what is described above and you want to put the tips in practice… that’s easier said than done. How to start? How to make sure you don’t fall back into old habits? How to make sure you stay fully in control of your agenda? Ambits Business Mentors have experience in the technology sector and therefore, understand very well your working context. They all have proven that there able to deal with the typical ‘sandwich’ challenges of middle managers. They are available to become your sounding board, your guide to become a strong leader.

    Contact us to discuss this further.

Struggles of a manager

Managers are

  • new in this role

    and

    • lack self-confidence
    • don’t know how to go from being a colleague to being a boss
    • need to loosen up on the command & control leadership style
    • must let go of the (technical) expert status
    • cannot give or accept constructive feedback
    • feel pressure to perform as manager
    • have difficulty building relationships
    • want to be liked by everyone or want to be the ‘bad boss’
    • play the hero
  • are struggling

    and

    • stay too involved in operations
    • have trouble prioritizing
    • cannot delegate
    • fear conflict situations
    • disconnect from the team
    • deal with flawed strategic thinking
    • do not relate to higher management
    • lack clear communication skills
    • remain not self-aware
    • avoid difficult conversations
    • miss political antennas
    • ...
  • capable of more

    and

    • need mental preparation as successor
    • need to be able to lead big changes ahead
    • need to learn to be emotionally resilient and in control
    • need to learn to make big decisions fast without all the information
    • must become persuasive presenters
    • need to learn how to cultivate their own personal brand
    • need to learn how to lead by example
    • manage by trust, not by fear
    • need to overly develop empathy
    • ...
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