The game is a good metaphor for the position in which many middle managers find themselves—caught in the middle between upper management and their direct reports. It can be a thankless and frustrating job. In fact, according to a survey of 15,725 employees by leadership development consultancy Zenger Folkman, when it comes to job satisfaction, such managers fall in the bottom 5 percent.
What should senior leaders do to ensure their middle managers are satisfied, engaged, and performing at their peak? Here are four actions to take:
Give them line of sight to the big picture
Make ongoing investments in onboarding and developing managers
Most organizations promote strong individual contributors to management positions without any preparation. The fact is that people who excel at their technical roles do not often translate into good managers or leaders without training, as few have a clear idea of the role and responsibilities of a manager. One of my clients does an excellent job preparing people they have identified as potential managers (or those who have expressed interest in management) by running a series of training sessions focused on effective management. The training exposes them to the ins and outs of management and the fundamental skills required. Job shadowing—where an employee spends several days working with and observing a manager—is a practical and meaningful way to gain this insight.
Start with a strong onboarding process for newly promoted managers. They will benefit from being assigned a mentor, often a more senior manager who can be their go-to support person. Such a mentor should not be their direct boss, but rather someone who can provide a safe, neutral perspective on how to make the shift from individual contributor to leader of others. Create a new manager bootcamp consisting of a series of “mini-workshops” covering basic management topics such as delegation, giving feedback, goal setting, interviewing skills, and so on. Typically, the bootcamp a program consists of three to four hours once or twice a month for six to nine months. Not only does this create a safe place for new managers to practice skills and ask questions, but it also allows them to connect with peers from around the company.
Continue their development with more advanced leadership workshops on in-depth skill development in the competencies you’ve identified as mission critical. Be sure to link this formal training to on-the-job experiences. Use assessments including 360s to measure their progress and to identify individual and group performance and skill gaps. Challenge them by asking them to lead organizational projects as part of their development, providing support with ongoing coaching and mentoring.
Don’t neglect their business knowledge. Other common training needs include business analytical skills, planning, and project management.
Recognize their development achievements
Middle managers are a vital resource. They have significant day to day impact on organizational performance and talent retention, yet they are often overlooked and neglected by many organizations. More robust approaches to developing and engaging them will offer great dividend to your organization.