May 25, 2019

The Squeezed Middle Manager

(Business Management week welcomes guest blogger Paul Cannons, who speaks about the woes of being a typical middle manager.)

Middle Management - squeezed dry?

When I was appointed to work as a middle manager in graduate recruitment (2011 – 2013) the first lesson I had to learn was to become comfortable managing regional teams and managers who were geographically remote and upon whom I was dependent to achieve the company’s strategy.

The second lesson I learnt quickly was the importance of reading the company strategy to ascertain what the senior management wanted to achieve within a financial year. Did they for example want to focus on a specific sector of the market such as graduates, school leavers or mature students? The answer upon further reading and discussion with senior management was all three. There was also an expectation I would contribute to the strategy by demonstrating how I could use my existing resources to deliver on all of these fronts and write a school leaver strategy.

I became the pivot upon which the implementation of the strategy depended and so the next task was to ‘tell and sell’ to my respective line managers and teams. It was my firm belief this was better done face to face and meet with geographically remote managers and team members. It did involve catching many an early train out of Euston or Kings Cross but served me well. It was a better approach than attaching the strategy document to an email in outlook and expecting all to jump aboard!

For me the prime task that a middle manager needs to address is motivating a team, whilst also attending to technical and compliance issues. A balance needs to be struck between these two demands of the role and on occasions I admit the sea-saw did tip more towards the technical issues especially around the periods of quarterly reports. Too many line managers promoted into middle management positions do fall into the trap of concentrating on one or other of these essential requirements of the role. I found it challenging keeping both of these ‘plates spinning in the air’ especially with a third ‘plate’ to ensure a regular line of communication was maintained with the senior management and the board. Hence this is where the term ‘squeezed middle manager’ for me is the most acute – keeping all parties informed and happy.

squeezed and stressed

Strategies change and the middle manager has to disseminate such nuances across regional teams whilst keeping them motivated. This involves keeping up to date with strategic progress, being on hand to discuss the tactical issues emerging from the strategy, whilst also looking for ways to improve efficiency of delivery.

This is where the middle manager’s role calls for leadership, being able to articulate the organisation’s strategy with the aim of inspiring and motivating line managers and teams. It can be a lonely role being aware of the limited resources you have to deploy to fulfil the strategy and having to meet any criticism emerging from the ranks.

Nevertheless when the final strategy was decided upon, I saw the prime function of my role as being an advocate of the strategy and translating it into deliverable tactical achievements. It did require leadership, often unblocking the glitches encountered on the way, and making the impossible seem possible to the team I managed.

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