Early this month it was reported that researchers in Liverpool and Manchester (UK) had observed Barbary macaques for almost 600 hours, and found that "middle hierarchy" monkeys experienced the most amount of stress. Dr. Susanne Shultz, a research fellow who oversaw the study, said: "What we found was that monkeys in the middle of the hierarchy are involved with conflict from those below them as well as from above, whereas those in the bottom of the hierarchy distance themselves from conflict. The middle-ranking macaques are more likely to challenge, and be challenged."
Swap out references to “monkeys” in that quote. Replace with “managers”. The sentiment would hold true. In the recent recession, the role of the middle manager has never been so imperative. The organisations that have successfully surfed through the tidal wave of economic devastation, have been able to do so because they have responded with quick, engaged agility – decisions and changes cascading with ease through company structures. These middle managers played a pivotal role in influencing improvements both up and down the organisation, responding to practical and personal reactions from all directions. Not every organisation has had such a rosy time however, as documented in the HCI Mid-Level Managers research which states that “Even today, as the economy moves into recovery, only 14 percent of respondents see their mid-levels as fully engaged. The ramifications are serious. If mid-levels aren’t managing with energy and optimism, it follows that neither will staff who look to their leaders for strength and guidance, especially during tough times.” So what about the other 86% of respondents, whose managers are not fully engaged? The below list represents some of the challenges that these mid-level leaders will struggle to address within two years of role:
- Leading change
- Making tough decisions
- Executing work priorities
- Developing talent
- Networking / partnering with others
Those 5 trials are not going to be innately resolved simply due to a job title. Managers are not born, they are made. Such a simple and logical sentence – yet so easily disregarded. DDI completed a survey which asked leaders to rank a list of life’s challenges in order of greatest difficulty. Making a transition at work (promotion) soared above moving house, managing teenagers, becoming a parent, and getting married. Like the monkeys; the middle managers experience extreme stress with activities such as navigating politics, achieving through others, and making high-risk decisions; causing peak anxiety…when not provided with the right support. Prior to, or upon promotion, middle managers should receive specific developmental guidance including blended learning areas such as those shown below:
- Formal: Classroom workshops on topics such as executing strategy, driving innovation, developing organisational talent, or operating with a global lens.
- Informal: Diagnostic tools for personality awareness, and behavioural perception. Community / CSR projects. Internal networking sites such as SharePoint discussion boards.
- On-The-Job: Development planning and sustained coaching from manager / mentor. Individual or peer projects to test application of skills. Peer networking with example sharing.
With this level of development, middle managers in your organisation are more likely to land in the 14 percent engaged leader category, rather than just swing aimlessly and cause damage to your organisational branches. Middle managers make a huge difference in your organisation; socially and economically. So don’t just give them bananas – invest in robust, actionable, behaviour-based development. Can you really afford not to?
Verity Bissett-Powell is a Business Development Executive at DDI UK.