Middle Management – Engagement’s Final Frontier

As the world undergoes the biggest restructuring of work since the Printing Revolution and task work disappears, the role of mid-management has become confusing. Because the very profession emerged out of task work. Routinely, individual contributors that produced the most work were rewarded with promotions into middle management. Usually, the new mid-manager was expected to continue their high personal productivity with tasks. But now, overseeing and policing the productivity of others elevated their typical days into a continuous frenzy.

Then, everything changed. Academics and business authors suggest that we get rid of them. But, the need for mid-managers is stronger than ever. It is the role of the manager that must be changed, transformed, and reimagined. Just be prepared for the pushback when you suggest this to a mid-manager. Most likely, their response will be, “I’m too busy.”

“But, the very future of your workers depends on your reinvention.”

“I’ll pencil it in over lunch…at my desk.”

Advancing technology is like a tornado from Oz blowing task work away. In its aftermath, we find entire categories of workers who need to change. This is why our managers must change, transform and reimagine their careers. As for employers, this is the time to carefully question if laying off the very people who know the most about your frontline is such a good idea. In reality, the mid-managers ought to be the first target for learning how to change and learning how to show others how to change as well.

As technology accelerates it is giving us freedom. The most cynical or contempt-filled reader will respond, “What, freedom from having an income?” But, it is giving us freedom from monotonous tasks, quotas, and other forms of mind-numbing work. The kinds of new work that is coming towards us are more interesting, visionary, and impactful in the world. The greatest social entrepreneurs are using technology to change the world. For example, Peter Diamandis says, “The best way to become a billionaire is to help a billion people.” Consider how lame that statement would have been just 20 years ago.

As the value of task work and its workers plummet, the work to be done is radically different. Instead of tasks, an endless stream of new jobs and roles is emerging.

The new workplace will reward those with any or a group of these skills: Creativity, narrative, accountability, empathy, engagement, solving problems, influencing others, sales, and managing the “big picture.”

Robotics and software have been game-changers with blue-collar work. De-monetized services such as LinkedIn and Facebook are impacting millions of white-collar workers. But, Artificial Intelligence will cause disruption as we have never witnessed before. Wealth managers will need to become curators. Medical research will exponentially find more cures for disease. Higher education will be available without paying a cent.

The most valued middle managers will be the ones that are only too happy to let go of tasks so they can develop their employer’s greatest asset, its people. They will be responsible for helping others to embrace active learning, develop new life skills, and to use new forms of technology that exponentially grow personal productivity.

Don’t trust the senior executives, the academics, and the authors of self-help books to propose a solution. Even the Harvard Business Review, characterizes mid-managers as the most disengaged of all workers. They are overworked, undervalued, and the most at-risk during layoffs.

The rock stars are quite different. We recently finished an executive development project with one of the most brilliant scientists in the world. Until we met, his value as an individual contributor had received global recognition. But, in one promotion, he was responsible for hundreds of his company’s best and brightest scientists.

During our first meeting, I said,

Up until today, you have been judged and promoted because you are a brilliant scientist. But, from this moment forward, your value will be measured in how you inspire hundreds of brilliant scientists to change the world.

His eyes lit up. The new mission became the centerpiece in how he wanted to grow. Now, he engages with his direct reports with the central mission of rewarding high personal performance with breakthroughs in their careers. He is teaching his direct reports to harness the needs and expectations of their workers with growth, progress and other forms of success.

The greatest managers know the needs and expectations of every person that reports to them. They take the time to harness those needs into energy and action. A great manager will conspire to create a culture that people love because love pushes us to perform way outside of our comfort zones. Great managers teach active learning, influence, and help their highest performers connect with game-changing mentors. They not only make it safe to ask for help, they often reward employees who do.

Unfortunately, frenzy breeds thoughtlessness. In so many organizations, the CEO doesn’t think of the impact that disengaged managers have on their profits and customers. Many don’t realize that disengaged managers are actually dooming the CEOs future.

How do we get started? We begin by elevating the value of our time. After we deliver an engagement program to an intact team, most everyone wants to sustain the transformation. That happens when they use small rituals that produce mindfulness.

One of them is to answer a few questions at the beginning of each morning. Instead of reading e-mails and listening to voicemails, they take 5-minutes to answer a few questions that organize their priorities.

Here is an example:

  • Who most needs my attention and inspiration?
  • What is the most valuable problem to solve today?
  • Describe today’s ideal blend of tactical and strategic work.
  • How can I best sell our ideas and solutions?
  • How can I best take care of myself?
  • What can I do to create greater engagement and effectiveness with our team?
  • Describe one really valuable action that might require your courage.

It takes five minutes.

What is the point? In the years ahead, technology isn’t taking away our value. It is up to us to make the kind of practical and visionary changes that elevate our value, they allow us to change the world, and to help the people around us.

David Harder
David Harderhttp://www.inspiredworkservices.com
DAVID founded Inspired Work in 1990, which has helped over 42,000 professionals transform their relationship towards work. Individuals from all walks of life attend Inspired Work’s public programs to launch new careers, new business or to become more successful in their existing role. He views work as a profound opportunity to become more fulfilled, contributive and effective. Mr. Harder’s leadership, employee engagement, executive development and social networking programs are used in a wide variety of organizations including The Walt Disney Company, HBO, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Loyola Marymount University, University of Southern California, The United Church of Religious Science, Morgan Stanley, and many others. Inspired Work’s leadership programs, career development and team building programs produce some of the worlds most outstanding satisfaction numbers in any business: 92.6% out of a hundred. David has appeared on many business and human-interest programs including CNN, KTLA News, KFWB News and Business News Network. David’s book, new book, The Workplace Engagement Solution (Career Press) offers an entire “crack-the-code” approach to engagement.
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