10 starter tips for Managing from the Middle

At the end of the first day I became a “middle manager” i cried myself to sleep. The job certainly wasn’t what i had thought
it would be; i felt like a rather compressed sponge, absorbing pressure from above and demands from below. I had no idea what the
job of a manager was. I didn’t even know how to get things done, or even what things to do, first! But i survived, somehow. When taking on your first managerial role, remember we middle managers are the liaison between upper management and the employees. Managers hear both sides and must listen and adapt to both.

So here are ten (actually a dozen… with two bonus tips) suggestions on how you handle those relationships for first-time managers:

1. Gain senior management’s confidence and respect.

Easier said than done, but proactive communication in ascertaining priorities and means of achieving aims is critical, as well as creating a quick and efficient way to enable your immediate boss to know you have things under control and she has no need to worry. We’ve provided tips with how you can ascertain how to communicate with archetypical bosses. And a great tip on how to set your management career on the right path (soon to be published)

2. Ensure your services are properly funded and budgeted.

In your previous role your manager passed you the resources to do your job- now its part of your job to ensure what your team does has sufficient access to resources- money, offices, travel, consultants etc- to do your job. How much is enough- who knows?- but your department budget is a good place to start finding out. Next, review the assumptions that created this budget to discover the real plan. That written department plan in the drawer- read it after you know how much budget you have, and then you’ll learn how well your predecessor was at his job… and how much resources he could provide.

3. Don’t ignore problems — identify and resolve.

Quickly discover what are the potential or hidden problems in your new role. Some managers leave skeletons or time bombs behind- ask your team members and peers what their views are on latent problems. Maybe your predecessor committed all your
departments resources before he left. Maybe he’s overcommitted you. Maybe there are disconnected staff. By asking around you can
identify and seek to deal with- in cooperation with your new boss- these issues. Bottom line- find and resolve; its your job.

4. Instil a sense of urgency.

You’re a manager; things need to be done, and some with a sense of urgency. Assess what your new department and company’s attitude is to action. Are they perfectionists, or are they happy to ship work that’s 80% right and work on enhancing it later. Either way there should be a sense of urgency in completing projects and providing great customer service inside and outside your department. Do telephones get answered promptly, people return from lunch on time, emails are answered within 24 hours… you know the kind of place you want to work in, now you have to make it happen.

5. Question past practices, appropriately, to improve the business.

You have an all-to-brief honeymoon period, where you can ask really basic questions, like “why do we do this, this way?”. Typically things are done because they were always done that way. You can assess how open your new boss and the business is to improving and enhancing how things are by asking how you can improved processes and practices. Assess the openness of your boss to how this should be done; but to increase productivity it must be done. Its best not to harp on how bad things are here, and how much better things were in your previous job. Rather, take someone on a journey (in the process) and point out with them, potential short cuts. Do it together to build rapport. Its not just about you being better and right, its about improving the business. More than this don’t afraid to be curious. Curiosity is a critical skill in the people who make a success of management. They demonstrate a striving to do things differently, to keep learning and evolving. Approach your new role so that you are always looking for better processes, communication and improved links between people and ideas, the chances are that management might be a rewarding role for you to take on.

6. Identify and implement efficiencies to free up resources.

Becoming more efficient has three purposes, all important parts of a managers role. Firstly, being efficient is good business, so discover ways in which your team can become more efficient. Secondly, you may wish to do new things. Finding your own resources within your department is a great way to prove to the company that you are responsible and resourceful. Thirdly, you should always have an efficiency contingency in case things go wrong. To free up cash quickly, know what things can be stopped. I prefer not starting a whole project to a phased reduction in resources for a few or all projects- general belt tightening, or fat trimming. I would hope that your project budgeting was reasonably accurate so there isn’t much fat in the plan- so cutting whole projects is the better way. It also shows to the bosses you didn’t budget any fat.

7. Thoroughly research all sides of issues to be sure of your plan

Sometimes we get enthusiastic with our ideas, and don’t take the time to consider alternatives, or potential unintended consequences. When putting your plans together take time to think of the arguments against your plan, and find ways to address potential concerns. Also take a little time to think through how people outside your team could react to your plans, both to support and to avoid them, and set p contingencies accordingly.

8. Make good decisions — don’t waver.

Firstly,  find out what a good decision in your company. Over lunch with peers, take time to ask them about how their projects get approved, how decisions are made, the quality of information needed, and how the company assess what a “good decision” is. Initially, seek your bosses guidance on your decisions. Eventually, inform him after all but the major decisions have been made

Don’t avoid taking decisions and don’t always kick them upstairs. You were hired to manage and making decisions is part of that. If your manager doesn’t like you making decisions- well, we will cover that later.

9. Guide others who use your services.

Don’t assume they know what to ask for. Learn about their programs so you know how to best assist.

My favourite IT professional worked with me in New Zealand- when ever we met he always said “no problem, but tell me what you want”. I didn’t know what I wanted nor did i know what was available nor what their capabilities were. So customer focused was Wayne, that he got himself and the business into trouble taking on too big projects when a simple “no, i don’t think that would be the best way… how about this” would have been better. Your own internal and external customers can’t be expected to be experts in your field. But you should try to understand what their business is, what principles guide their business, what the longer term
objectives are. In doing this guide them into making the best decisions for them and for you.

10. Take initiative. 

See what needs to be done, and do it. Don’t wait for tasks to be assigned.

As you become more comfortable in your role, find out the strategic direction of the business and the teams you are part of. Consider how you could help the business progress, find congruent projects or ideas to add value. Informally test your hypotheses with colleagues and superiors in the business. In so doing you will enable yourself to anticipate needs and initiate supportive programs Take the initiative within your business.

Two great BONUS tips;

Be positive (all day)

It’s easy to be critical of whoever was previously in your role. After all, it’s a real easy target. But wait. This gives the impression that you are the type to ‘pass the buck’; blame others and above all be insincere- not a great start. So, stick with positive comments whilst acknowledging possible shortfalls in the past.

And finally…

Believe in yourself.

I’ve noticed a pattern from coaching new leaders and new managers at all levels, the common fear that they’ll “get found out” or are some “kind of fraud” a subliminal lack of self belief . Maybe all of us need a little more self-belief, but the implication is that few of us ever consider ourselves to be “ready” to manage. A leap of faith in yourself is required. Should you have the fortune to work for a good organisation and manager, you will be supported to acquire the attitudes, skills and knowledge you need to manage well, but rational self belief is the key to success.

Twelve tips is a lot, and its pretty exhausting to do all of these at once, so plan you initial year in the role to display all these competencies to your team, your boss and the wider business… and soon you’ll be in another new, more challenging role. Have you any great tips for new managers in the middle, please share them with us.

3 Replies to “10 starter tips for Managing from the Middle”

  1. This is OK as far as it goes, but what happens if you are promoted inside a company, you’ve written from the perspective of a manager joining from outside. Any new or different tips if your from inside?

  2. Interesting perspective. Not sure I agree with all, but good to know and I will pass on to our new managers,

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