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Is your middle order fighting fit?

Is your middle order fighting fit?
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First Published: Sun, Apr 25 2010. 08 52 PM IST

Updated: Sun, Apr 25 2010. 08 52 PM IST
Recruitment is back in the air and there is a spring in the step of the talent acquisition team. The interview rooms send out an adrenalin-inducing buzz as candidates file in and out in an agony of hope. And the strategists don their thinking caps to chart out the best talent attraction game plans. Indications are strong that the next wave of the war for talent has well and truly begun.
But one man’s attraction is another’s attrition. And to de-risk the corporation, several plans are on the boil. There is a strong thrust on leadership development—to ensure fighting fit senior leaders. On the radar, too, are finishing school interventions to develop new recruits and quickly enable them to make the transition from college campuses to corporate ones.
But what of the unsung middle? Is there a sense of urgency in creating a cadre of strong Atlas-like first and second line of managers, able to respond to a call to arms in effectively managing this Twitter-happy, YouTube-savvy generation of young professionals? Are organizations losing sleep over the creation and retention of this critical management layer? My submission is No.
Most employees experience their organization through these middle managers. They perform many key roles—administrators, delegators, motivators, communicators, listeners, counsellors. Even in tough times, a great front-line manager can do wonders creating an island of high employee engagement. But serendipity does not a successful manager make.
Champion them: Assess the potential of your middle management.
Wise corporations realize this. A human architecture with a strong middle requires sustained and intense effort, much like core strengthening exercises which help create a great pack of abdominal muscles. It requires the creation of these super managers, and then keeping them engaged, and in the corporation.?Of equal importance, therefore, is the making and nurturing of these managers.
Selection is critical. Assess on potential and promote as far as possible only those with the greatest promise. This may not always be feasible in this country with its national obsession for designations. So great performers, even if low on management potential, may have to be promoted.
But then use data—360 feedback, engagement survey scores, appraisal inputs—and identify individual development needs. Design robust and customized training for distinct milestones in a manager’s career. Handhold, give feedback and coach them on the key attributes that set apart a great manager. Be fanatical in ensuring that managers attend programmes they are intended to. This is an issue of discipline. A great organizational practice I have come across is the two-strike philosophy. Nominate twice and if the managerial nominee does not attend, revert the candidate to the previous role. This puts the onus on both the employee and his supervisor to take training seriously and gets you metrics to die for.
The role is no cake-walk. Here is a cadre that can easily get “caught in the middle between the powerful and the powerless in many… an energy draining and stress filled conundrum” as the social scientist Kenwyn Smith so aptly puts it in his book Groups in Conflict: Prisons in Disguise. And if they are disengaged it can spell doom for corporations. Imagine if the first line manager’s and the next level manager’s engagement index is lower than his subordinate’s. Who then motivates those below and prevents a vicious spiral of dissatisfaction in the organization?
Motivation will come from the learning and financial value-add that corporations can give these bright managers. But equally important is equipping them with information. Many times the cause of de-motivation is the helplessness of not knowing the whys of tough decisions and how to handle relevant communication. And when this happens middle managers may blithely “duck” the responsibility of cascading organizational messages to the troops. Motivation also comes from a sense of being included in decision making. And for this, senior leaders must let them in, meeting them face to face, listening to their concerns, and addressing them with speed.
Celebrate your middle. In a very successful experiment, one company picked out the best and highlighted their unique managerial practices. The managers were recognized and these practices ported to other parts of the organization. The message is simple. Celebrate your manager champions with the same passion as you would your customer delighters!
IPL watchers, and I mean cricket aficionados, will tell you that it is the middle overs that make or break an innings. Napoleon famously stated that an army marches on its belly. Corporations will be well advised to take note and get their own middles fighting fit and engaged!
Hema Ravichandar is an independent human resources consultant, who is on the board of Titan Industries Ltd and Marico Ltd. She was formerly global head of HR at Infosys Technologies Ltd.
Write to Hema at hrmatters@livemint.com
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First Published: Sun, Apr 25 2010. 08 52 PM IST