Gautam Sharma wasn’t expecting a promotion at such an early phase of his career. His happiness, however, was short-lived as his colleagues started finding faults in his leadership and above all, he found the workload unmanageable. Up till now, his only focus had been the work deputed to him but with the early raise, he now had to keep an eye on his team’s work too.
Gautam’s seniors held him responsible for mistakes done by his team members. He was no more a part of the office gossip. rather, he became a subject to gossip on.
This is a common issue that most middle managers are facing. With no autonomy, strict deadlines, inexperienced juniors, limited resources and growth chance, most feel like “a rat on a wheel”.
It’s a challenge, take it
The heady growth story of mid-level employees which lasted until about 2010 is now dissipating and realistic growth expectations are setting in. Hence now there is slow growth for all levels, especially more so for the middle management which is squeezed in between the senior level that grew really fast and may or may not be ready for the leadership role and managing younger employees, who are mostly dissatisfied with the status quo.
Mohit Jain, co-founder of Northwest Executive Education feels the reason for such confusion is that the middle managers have to navigate between old and new schools of thought, get work done without authority and don’t know know if and when they will move up the ladder.
“There is often no clear direction of what exactly is expected of them to get to the next level. The profile is more operational profile than ever before, with a job description that prioritises targets over thinking and planning, leading to a limited development of leadership skills. Not many get appreciation for their work,” said he.
Most of the times, they have to struggle with their team to get work done. “The younger workforce does not appreciate the old style of working and millennials want the freedom to work and deliver as they please. The mid-level is tasked with managing them but has not been coached on how to” said Jain.
The mid-level also faces limited growth opportunities to the next level with stretched time frames of more than three-four years, as opposed to 1.5-2 years spent at initial levels.
Rajeev Bhardwaj, vice president, HR, Sun Life Financial Asia Service Centre, suggests, “Middle managers have to carefully calibrate what the leadership expects and what their team can deliver. Balancing and expectation setting is critical. Ability to transform oneself to someone who can get things done is what matters. It requires playing hardball at times. Ability to push back and say no to the boss is also important. One has to be realistic about what is expected and what is doable.”
Mohit Jain suggests tips for mid-level managers to deal with the situation:
Invest in your own learning and development as well as growth through further education, academic network extension and new experiences at work place, e.g. Executive Education Programs such as Berkeley Executive Program in Management, with a focus on innovation.
Meet with the senior leadership at regular intervals to set expectations about delivery and performance as well as craft out areas where you can assume leadership and hone those skills in a low-risk environment.
Plan to take some risks such as moving to a new function within the company, taking on greenfield projects or even moving to a bigger role at a smaller firm to gain more exposure and move up the ladder while building a repertoire of skills and competencies that can support future growth.
Extend professional networks actively through work or academic networks and surround yourself with people who are intellectually superior and add value to your life through enriching discussions and support you in your endeavours.
Make sure that your home environment is supportive including your spouse, kids and parents as you struggle through this and sometimes spend more time at work then home.
Mamta Mohapatra, Professor, IMI, New Delhi sites how a company helped its employees with a training programme.
Tesco Hindustan Service Centre (HSC) employs around 6,500 personnels in its operations in India. The company conducted a colleague engagement study called ‘What Matters to You’ (WMTY). Based on the feedback and insights on the needs of managers from across functions, Tesco rolled out a nine-month training programme called ‘Being a Great Manager’ in 2014.
This programme started with a note on the essential management skills followed by an individual action learning assignment for approximately two-three months. The programme blended the use of self-assessments, individual coaching, developmental sessions, simulations and individual action learning assignments, all designed to help stretch the potential of managers to the highest level.
In the second step, the participating managers enhanced their coaching skills and finally ended up gaining developmental experience with understanding, accountability and courage. Under the ‘leaders teaching leaders’ model of the programme, the senior managers of the company acted as facilitators and teachers. Learning was not limited only to internal resources. External experts were also called in as and when required.
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