Middle management Featured

7:00pm EDT January 31, 2007
One of the key secrets of organizational growth is the development of the management team,” says Gregg Steinberg, president of International Profit Associates of Buffalo Grove, Ill. “Middle managers have a unique leadership role and they hold a great responsibility for the maintenance, growth and development of a company.”

Smart Business asked Steinberg to discuss the importance of developing middle managers and the impact that it has on small and medium-size businesses.

Why is it important for business owners to continually help develop middle managers?

One of the key secrets of organizational growth is the development of the management team. Organizational growth, in a controlled environment, produces additional profit on a percentage basis as well as an increase in the ease of operations. This requires a strong middle and senior management team.

In a perfect world, senior management ultimately would be chosen from the middle management ranks, ensuring consistency, corporate vision, mission and culture. It is inherent that senior management and ownership be focused on developing middle managers. Rank-and-file employees, as well as new recruits, will see better career opportunities if the hierarchy of the company has been promoted from within.

What are the leadership skills that most good middle managers possess?

They typically possess different skill sets, depending on past experience. In many instances, leadership skills are learned rather than genetically inherent. As such, rookie middle managers typically need a substantial amount of leadership mentoring. This will identify which employees will be a middle manager who has chosen to make that a career aspiration rather than a stepping stone to senior management.

In many instances, middle managers are initially promoted into their positions because of their ability to motivate and increase the morale of those they are managing. In addition, senior management perceives that those they promote into middle management positions either inherently have leadership skills that can be developed or believe that there is a strong desire for career development. In either case, middle managers have the ability to excel in an environment that nurtures growth and incentivizes productivity increases.

How can you help middle managers improve their strategic thinking?

The first step in the key to strategic thinking is training someone to analyze an issue from start to finish, before he or she delivers a solution or addresses an issue with a subordinate or superior. The ability to fully analyze a problem allows middle managers latitude in their decision-making process once senior management is comfortable with their strategic thinking. Given this to be true, it is incumbent upon senior management to delegate the analytical process to middle management so that this skill can be developed. Mentorship by analytical delegation ensures that employees learn by experience and that future similar issues will be handled in a manner consistent with senior management expectations.

How can business owners keep middle managers satisfied with their positions?

They are no different than any other employee. Human nature would prefer daily challenges rather than daily tedious routine. Therefore, in order to keep middle managers satisfied, it is important that senior management continue to engage them in not only daily operational issues, but also in strategic initiatives.

It is also important for the compensation structure, tied to the middle manager’s personal pay, to carry incentives. In order to accomplish this effectively, companies must have tools that clearly identify how middle management is doing, relative to expectations. Specific company statistics must be produced daily, weekly and monthly, on a real-time basis. In this manner, both senior and middle management can measure and score where they are on a daily basis against expectations, goals and quotas.

In an environment where this information exists, compensation structures can be easily designed and tied to daily reporting. It allows them to manage themselves effectively and ultimately maintain a high satisfaction rate in terms of job expectations.

How can you identify, develop and retain an employee who would make a good middle manager?

Regardless of position, most managers can identify individuals who clearly exhibit the ability to be a leader or the desire to be considered for promotion. Positive attitude, loyalty, strong work ethic, team spirit and a history of being responsible can be outwardly seen and therefore often act as self-selectors for potential middle managers.

Ultimately, employees develop and stay at their place of employment due to both a high satisfaction level in their daily job and the knowledge that they will be treated fairly and loyalty returned.

GREGG STEINBERG is president of International Profit Associates, Buffalo Grove, Ill. IPA’s 1,800 employees offer consulting services to businesses throughout the 50 United States and Canada. Reach Steinberg at (800) 531-7100 or gregg.steinberg@ipa-iba.com or www.ipa-iba.com.