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Entries in Leadership (1)


The Middle Management Crisis

The VP of a major retailer was very clear, “The biggest issue I have is helping my managers learn to lead people.”

This was in response to the softball question, “what keeps you up at night?”

And he was serious in his response. “We’ve taken technicians and put them into management roles. This created a gap in the technical space, and now has us scrambling on how to pair the new managers up with experienced managers so they can begin learning the art of people management.”

This sentiment was echoed by a mature contributor in a financial services IT organization. “I watch managers 10 years my junior make mistake after mistake leading people…it’s very frustrating. People are unhappy in their jobs, when the economy turns staff will begin jumping.”

While both organizations are in different industries, they share many characteristics. They are leaders in their industries, and reacted quickly to the 2008-2009 downturn with immediate staff reductions. Like many organizations, the middle management tier was immediately impacted: the “top of the house” was needed to lead during the crisis, and the front line technical staff was needed to “keep the lights on.” The middle management ranks were the first to suffer reductions.

As the recovery begins slowly gaining steam, companies should begin examining how they are positioned to lead into a recovering time.

We are not advocating a return to the management structure in place before the downturn; some of the reductions and realignments position companies with strength going forward. (“Placeholder” managers are best left finding other more suitable roles!)

It is wise to begin assessing middle management bench strength and making adjustments appropriate for continued growth:

  • Training – have newly minted managers received the necessary support to effectively succeed in their new roles? We’re specifically talking leadership training, not training in administrative aspects of a managerial role so many companies pass off as management training (salary administration, reviews, etc.)
  • Mentoring – a low cost, high value approach ensuring high potential managers receive the coaching needed to lead
  • Role Assessment – do the managers have the “right stuff” to successfully lead, or is it best to begin the process of allowing them to return to their technical roots while backfilling the managerial role they’ll be vacating

We’ll leave it to scholars (and the 1983 comedic movie Trading Places) in determining whether leaders are born or bred (nature versus nurture.) Our view is more pragmatic.

Companies are wise to examine their IT leadership structure and begin addressing any gaps so the IT staff stays engaged building the company rather than building their resume.