The sticky middle slows business

Just when you thought you had enough problems
dealing with Millennials in your organisation, here comes another demographic
that requires your attention. Tim Gould, Editor of HR Morning once said: “I’ve been promoted to middle management. I never thought I’d
sink so low”.

He was talking about people who spend years aspiring
to reach a middle management position and end up staying there.

Middle management grows like Topsy inside
organisations of any size. By the time your business has reached its first
decade they become numerically significant. Soon they are sufficiently established
in their habits to justify the descriptor ‘the treacle layer’. Named after the sticky
uncrystallised syrup that’s a by-product of the sugar refining process.

Middle Managers should contribute to
your organisation in three ways:

the vision of the company
, its
values, plans and activities. In the right language, at the right pace and
… consistently.

as role models
to junior employees,
demonstrating behaviours such as “dress up, show up and never give
up” whilst keeping customer experience to the fore.

positive use of their learnings
from many
years of working inside the operation. This gold dust of experience needs
to be handed down to others. It often provides essential guidance on what to do
when things go wrong from time to time.

managers who do this for you are valuable and should be protected during
restructuring activities. But those who do not help you, tend to slow you down.
Hence the name ‘treacle layer’. This is becoming a very significant problem in
developed economies; particularly in those where legislation protects long
serving staff.

in East Africa we have institutions and companies well enough established to
feel drag from the middle level. I remember it from my earliest days here,
nearly three decades ago. Colleagues brought in to reform established
organisations met significant resistance from a level who openly described them
as ‘passing clouds.’ “Don’t panic,” they advised peers and juniors, “he’ll blow
away eventually and we’ll still be here.”

see the treacle layer in some of the organisations I help. They take a minimal
part in discussions about change, often saying absolutely nothing in response
to the most direct questions. Many use endless repetition and re-illustration
of the point they are making (usually explaining why change is not possible).
Others say yes to ideas, but only because they are not yet ready to say
no. In the face of this, a CEO must cascade his messaging overtly and
unequivocally. The treacle layer is always looking for the slightest sign that
the boss doesn’t really mean it.

Chris Harrison leads The
Brand Inside


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