Middle management: More than an interlayer

Having employees with outstanding performance lead their entire team: For many organisations, it seems like a logical decision. These employees know the process like the back of their hand and know exactly what is needed for operations to run smoothly. However, don’t make the common mistake of assuming that an experienced crew member will make a good captain! By dedicating time and attention to support these middle managers and helping them grow into their new role, you create the foundation for a successful organisation.

“Just last week he was a crane operator, now he’s leading a team of 60 people.” It’s a telling example from one of the world’s top terminal operators that demonstrates a common practice in logistics. Managers—particularly operational managers—are often chosen from within the own organisation, leading to a middle management layer that is made up of seasoned employees. After all, who else knows the processes better than someone from your own operations? Time to train managers from outside the organisation doesn’t seem to be available, partly due to increasing costs and pressure from customers. Because of these factors, the bar is set high, and new managers are not only asked to lead their team, but to immediately start contributing to the efficiency of the organisation. An experienced crew member, however, doesn’t necessarily make for a good captain. Lack of managerial skills and insufficient awareness of what is expected from a manager thus often leads to a number of issues. How do you give your brand new managers the right toolbox so that they’re able to optimally fulfill their new role?

Clear expectations

Senior management is responsible for clearly establishing what is expected from middle managers and which organisational goals their departments are contributing to. Only when this is clear at the highest level within the company, can these goals be communicated to new managers. Based on the company’s strategy, a number of competencies that are necessary to reach these goals should be identified. On top of these competencies, managers should have a set of additional skills, such as performance management, decision-making skills and the ability to help team members collaborate and communicate effectively. For middle managers coming from operations, it’s also important that they learn how to delegate tasks—after all, a lot of the tasks that they’ve become so proficient at now have to make way for the responsibilities of a manager.

Feedback and support

Perhaps it sounds familiar: Feedback moments become sparse, due to the issues of the day. Still, it’s important to avoid feedback exclusively being given during formal performance reviews. By regularly engaging with middle managers, problems can be tackled quickly, before things escalate. Don’t let feedback be completely dominated by KPIs or departmental goals, either. To get a good impression of how the manager is performing, a 360-degree assessment is often a good choice. In such an assessment, both the team as the person the middle manager reports to are asked for their opinion. This paints a complete picture, using different perspectives, that usually expose problem areas that might not be visible from KPIs alone. Interpersonal and other communication skills, for example, that are important for successful leadership. The assessment can be used to create a roadmap with the manager, which can include training objectives and coaching opportunities.

Make time for development

A company culture in which everyone—junior to senior, work floor to top management—is constantly stimulated to keep developing themselves, contributes to successful middle management. Make middle managers aware of the fact that it’s okay if they don’t perform 100% on certain aspects of their role, as long as they are able to identify the problem themselves and ask for support or training when necessary. Dedicating enough budget to training and development may seem like a secondary investment in the short run, but it is essential to keep improving the performance of the entire organisation. Offering enough growth opportunities are not only useful for improving managers’ performance, but also builds commitment and reduces employee turnover.

One team, one goal

Due to the nature of their role, a middle manager, of course, doesn’t act exclusively in their own interest. A training programme for managers should therefore answer a number of questions that relate to the team that is being managed:

  • How do I motivate my people?
  • How do I assess my people?
  • How do I deal with different types of people?
  • How do I present myself to my people?
  • How do I share knowledge and information with my people?
  • How do I communicate effectively with my people?

With these tools, a middle manager becomes more than someone that is merely putting out fires as they come up. He or she can start working on employee satisfaction and improving team performance. When this happens, departments contribute to building and maintaining a successful organisational culture in which everyone collectively works towards a common goal. This mindset can be referred to as “One Team, One Goal”.

More than an interlayer

While the traditional company hierarchy is going out of style in many sectors, a properly working middle management layer can still be of immense added value in operations. A tightening labour market means that teams need to become more and more efficient and that employee satisfaction is vital to attracting and retaining employees. These are areas concerning everyday operations where a middle manager can make a huge difference. By offering enough guidance when operational employees make the jump to management, you create benefits for the entire organisation.

Learn more

Over the years, Venturn has designed multiple training programmes aimed at developing middle managers within diverse logistics companies. For more information, have a look at our training portfolio or contact us at info@venturn.nl or 010 304 20 70.

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