The heart of our business is under-supported; yet a change here makes a huge difference. Let’s shift our focus to the people who have the strongest influence on performance.

When we think of change we start with the top:

  • executive coaching
  • strategic change initiatives
  • vision statements
  • restructures.

Or we work bottom up:

  • engagement initiatives
  • creating a shared purpose
  • benefit packages
  • wellness days.

Something about this thinking isn’t working

70% of change initiatives fail

Looking at figures from BIMA Tech Inclusion & Diversity Report 2019

– 66% of respondents are stressed by their work

– 52% have suffered from anxiety or depression at some point

– Tech people are 5x more depressed than the UK average

What if we started in the middle?

Our experience shows the biggest shifts come when you work out from the middle and I am not alone. In a recent roundtable a senior HR Leader said:

Middle management is where good ideas go to die

The UK currently has an estimated 2.4 million untrained ‘accidental managers’, and with poor management costing employers around £84 billion a year according to the OECD

Your middle managers are the main touch point for your people. They translate the ideas that are being communicated from the top; they filter the ideas that come from the bottom.

They are how it really feels to work around here. They make work a joy or a misery.

Their ways of working will either make you feel like you belong and are part of a team; or are isolated, separate and disconnected.

They are the key influencer of psychological safety at work.

They pollute your culture initiatives or bring them to life.

They stifle creativity and innovation or ignite new thinking.

Even the most charismatic leader can not pull a whole organisation along with them through the sheer force of their will; they need middle management to do some heavy lifting.

Yet, middle managers are often under invested in

There are too many to get round the board room table, so they are not involved.

Many don’t have the experience to be comfortable with the lack of certainty that senior leaders navigate. So they are written off as not strategic.

They are often great doers who have been moved into a space of leading others, but offered little or no training and support on how to lead, beyond which processes to follow and proformas to complete.

Their comfort is the production of work and success is measured by tasks done.

“These behaviours have been around for years and just need to be adapted for the online interactions that we’re all taking part in more of. There are a similar set of key high performing behaviours that leaders need to do, it’s just that they’re applying it in a different environment. People might find it a bit awkward, but the reality is that it’s happening.”

Managers are under prepared for the messy complexity of people, so they:

  • people please
  • control and micro-manage
  • disengage and focus on their own outputs [i.e. what made them successful before]
  • stay stuck with their imposter feelings.

Senior leaders judge their performance:

  • good with people
  • not good with people.

Teams shrink, responsibilities shift and an opportunity is lost.

Great leadership can be taught

I have worked with technical specialists who have been written off as ‘not good with people’ and developed exceptional inspirational leadership.

I have worked with ‘good with people’ emerging leaders and unpicked their unhelpful habits and developed exceptional inspirational leadership.

You wouldn’t give a junior doctor a scalpel and expect them to perform surgery without proper training.

You wouldn’t sit someone in the driver’s seat of a bus without making sure they can drive first.

Our middle managers have a fundamental impact on the health and success of our businesses but so few invest in proper training and development.

It doesn’t have to be expensive and the ROI is massive.