Fi 1 Middle Managers 2

How to Retain Middle Management and Grow Their Skills: Part 2

by Gary Payne, Robert Satterwhite, and Ann Wheeler

How do you motivate a middle manager?

Middle managers need to be sold on the culture and vision of your organization. When your middle managers are going to model organizational behaviors and values, it’s critical to win over their hearts and minds, and keep them motivated. 

To do so, your company should:

Provide purpose

People are motivated by purpose, particularly the younger generation. In a 2021 Deloitte survey, out of 8,273 Gen Z respondents, 49% said they chose their careers and employment based on their personal ethics.

Motivation is not solely about career advancement; people want to feel like they are adding value, meaning, and purpose within the company and beyond. They want to feel proud of their work.

Your company communications, both internal and external, need to be consistent and highlight the impact your organization is making.

Identify individual drives and goals

Motivation is different for each individual.

Some might be driven by a promotion, while others want to avoid boredom; they fear growing stale in their career. They want to be innovators as opposed to overseers. 

Take opportunities during scheduled check-ins, quarterly assessments, and year-end reviews to ask your middle managers about the vision for their careers and how that vision fits within both their current roles and potential future roles.

Whether they are striving for career advancement, or they want to expand their skillset, help them define what drives their passions and their individual goals, so your organization can create opportunities and projects to keep them interested and engaged in their work.

Develop multiple mentor relationships

Many organizations see the value in dedicated mentorship programs, but it’s important to remember that people can have many mentors who will help them with various aspects of their career.

Encourage your middle managers to establish and build different relationships and get multiple sources of input.

How do you progress your middle management?

Helping middle managers progress their career path involves three key factors:

Early identification

As you are working with middle management and attempting to identify those who could grow into even greater leadership roles, it’s important to establish your criteria and competency model.

A common challenge for organizations is identifying leadership potential early enough in an individual’s career path. Often by the time they have been identified, it’s too late to ensure they get enough diverse experience to fulfill those leadership qualifications.

Thorough assessment

Assessment still needs to be viewed as an internal employee investment. The hiring rigor of qualifications needs to be applied equally to all promotions. If you want to retain the majority of your employees, it goes without saying that you need to treat people fairly and consistently.

When you are assessing internal employees for a role, make sure to communicate that you are using the exact same standards as you would for external employees. Give every internal candidate feedback throughout the process, especially if they aren’t chosen for the position.

Use the assessment process as an additional development tool, so you can build upon that feedback and provide the resources or a coach to help your internal hire candidates continue to develop.

Continued training and leadership development

When internal hires are promoted, they are already embedded within the organization’s DNA. There tends to be an expectation they will hit the ground running when you might give more leeway to an external hire. But as we noted earlier, that can be a weird mirage of success; it becomes very easy to fail under the burden of presupposed expectations. What made an internal hire successful in their previous role will be different from the KPIs of their new role.

Give your internal hires the same grace period you would extend to external hires:

  • Provide formal onboarding. A deliberate onboarding process formalizes the need for new behaviors; too often, it’s perceived as training that’s only necessary for external hires. Remember your internal hires need it as well.
  • Undergo the exercise of stakeholder mapping, so they understand their potential impact and influence. Don’t assume they will already know based off their previous position.
  • Conduct a formal listening tour, even if they are already familiar with stakeholders and staff. This gives everyone a chance to get to know them in their new position and allows more freedom to ask questions and collect data.
  • Check on their calendar. Make sure they have set up regular meetings with peers and quarterly meetings with stakeholders.
  • Ask what they need and what leadership could be doing better.

Leadership also has to ensure the proper amount of focus is being put on strategic change and initiatives. If you want to create a coaching culture where there’s mutual team accountability, you need to create processes to support that philosophy.

Next Steps

Below are some questions to consider as you reexamine your current leadership development program:

Early Identification of Leaders

  • Do you know what “good” looks like at your organization?
  • Do you have a clear idea of what your leadership pipeline looks like?
  • Have you communicated that back to your managers so they can reflect on feedback?
  • Are you looking at how results are achieved and paying attention to cross-functional aspects of the role?
  • How do managers treat not only their own, but other teams, sections, and divisions within the organization?

Assessing Their Success

  • Are your middle managers as dedicated to positive reinforcement as they are to constructive feedback?
  • Are they instituting an internal coaching culture?
  • How do your middle managers show up in team meetings? Do they speak 80% of the time, when they should be speaking 10%?

Development & Progress

  • Are you utilizing talent mapping to forecast hiring needs?
  • Have you defined clear paths to career development and growth?
  • Do the company’s growth goals support all employees?
  • How are you creating opportunities for current employees who didn’t receive a promotion?
  • Are you providing formal onboarding processes for internal hires?
  • Should you use onboarding coaches to enhance and build employee capabilities as they move into new positions?
  • Are you emphasizing the importance of strategic initiatives and creating time and space for your leaders to focus on those goals?

At the end of the day, retaining your employees through leadership development is good risk management. You want to develop a deep bench of leaders that your organization can use to propel its growth and ultimately plot its succession plan.

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