Middle managers like to complain about being squeezed by pressures from above and below. Their organisations love to blame them for all the ills in the place.
Middle managers have two great advantages that they can use to drive change:
- They can place themselves in the heart of the network of their organisations.
- They have authority to make things happen.
Without use, these opportunities whither. Middle managers need to take advantage of them when they can.
Networking in the middle
Frontline employees have very full lives juggling customer expectations. In my experience, they have limited opportunities to engage in networking across the organisation. Enterprise social networks do assist to connect frontline people with the rest of the organisation but the pressures of direct customer engagement often means time is limited and is often focused on better meeting customer needs.
Senior management are often removed from the day-to-day interactions in the organisation because of the scale of their jobs and the greater exposure to external stakeholders. Nobody wants a hierarchy where messages need to go to the top to spread because it is a terribly inefficient way to share information.
If middle management is to have any meaningful role, middle managers needs to play a role networking the organisation across the middle. Middle manager jobs should give them enough perspective and exposure to their peers to seek and share information widely across the silos and beyond. As nodes in the network of the organisation, managers can dramatically increase their influence sharing information, connecting people, reducing duplication and guiding action. Build a reputation as a generous middle manager who is happy to collaborate, share information and advise and you will find people beating a path to your door. Your authority increases when you want to act.
Authority to act
When everyone around you assumes authority depends on hierarchical position, having any hierarchical power is an advantage to action. You don’t need to be at the top, you just need the respect of others. Yet many middle managers wait assuming further endorsement is required.
What middle managemers needs to do is leverage their network position and their hierarchical opportunity. Organisations often give way to people who have hierarchical power who are prepared to act, especially where the activity is beneficial and well aligned to strategy and purpose.
When I was a mid-level manager in NAB, a group of graduates came to me wanting to know whose authority they needed to set up a TEDX style speaking program in NAB. I told them they needed no authority. It was a great idea, there was a demand and there was no obvious sponsor in the organisational hierarchy. Finding one would be more work than organising the first event.
I suggested that they could do it themselves and start straight away. For safety’s sake, I told them that if they were challenged on their authority they should say I approved it. When they did get a challenge, that answer was more than enough because the people who worry about permission rarely have the courage to check its source. A TEDX style event sat well with the culture that NAB was building and the strategy of being more open and aligned to customers and the community. The first TEDX event had over 200 internal attendees and the events which were run by volunteer graduates for 2 more years were huge successes.
Network and Use Authority
If you are a middle manager and want that role to continue in your organisation, don’t fall for the blame game. Network yourself to increase your authority and use whatever authority you have to add value in line with the organisation’s purpose and strategy.
Susan Scrupski, Harold Jarche and I will be discussing the role of networks in organisations in the first Change Agents Worldwide webinar, in partnership with Socialcast VMware