Middle managers – Saints or sinners

In Productivity culture, UK productivity, Uncategorized on May 10, 2010 by Tim Aikens

The senior team is all on board, desperate to make a real change in productivity and performance.  But of course they do not manage the ‘workforce’ – all those people who add value, deal with customers and are generally responsible for generating revenue.  There is this layer usually referred to as ‘middle management’ who take the strategies and visions from the top and turn them into real plans and actions to make  money for the business!

In my years of working as a management consultant I have often been in that middle place with a client, working to get middle management engaged and driving initiatives through.  Here lies the dilemma, you never know what you are going to get.  There will almost certainly be some who are keen to get on and change, whilst there will nearly always be some or a few middle managers who have no appetite for change.  The good ones can be great and the poor ones can derail the whole effort quite easily.

The role of the leader is to work through this, to identify the laggards and encourage the enthusiasts.  I have a saying that I sometimes have to use with clients – ‘change the people or change the people’!  In other words if someone has the wrong attitude or is blocking change, then either that attitude has to change or the person needs to be changed –  through moving them to a different role, or in extremis removing them from their job altogether.

I have seen enthusiasts do a great job in making big changes, even though they were actually working themselves out of a job. I have seen others determined to block any move for change who have had to be moved out of the organisation altogether.  What does this mean for a senior manager trying to put a large productivity programme in place?

Three key tips!

Look out for and use the enthusiasts to manage the programme going forward.  They will have both the energy and desire to move quickly and effectively.  Secondly, make it very clear to everyone the attitude that will be expected in future from all middle managers and that this attitude will be a major aspect of performance assessment.  If you don’t have the right attitude towards change and/or productivity, don’t expect a large bonus, or promotion!  Finally, communicate.  Make the expectations you have of middle management very clear to everyone in the organisation.  Being in the middle can be a nice hiding place. Failure to deliver is ‘top management’s fault’ or ‘it’s the workforce’.  These are tough words, but it is this group of people in the middle that will either take the business forward or hold it back.

Where are you in this process, are your middle managers all enthusiasts or laggards, saints or sinners?


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