Mid-Level Managers: Taking Care of the Heart of the House

Scott Blanchard, principal and EVP at The Ken Blanchard Companies, likes to use the phrase heart of the house to describe the important role middle managers play in an organization. In Blanchard’s experience, if mid-level management is neglected, the result is a slow-moving organization that doesn’t respond well to feedback.  This can be not only frustrating but also damaging to performance in today’s fast-paced business environment that requires a lean and agile approach.

“Managers working in the heart of the house play a couple of different roles. First, senior leaders look to middle managers to put goals and action plans in place to achieve strategic results.  But that is just one side of the coin.  Middle managers are also responsible for the environment in which the work is accomplished. So the middle manager’s job is twofold: to get things done and also to manage people’s emotional relationships to their work, their company, and their co-workers. Middle managers set the tone for the workplace.”

Blanchard says that to be successful, middle managers must be skilled in communicating what is expected and how it is to be achieved.  That means connecting the dots from the boardroom to the frontlines. If middle management is ineffective, the staff both above and below this level suffers.

“Well run companies have information flowing both upward and downward.  Middle managers take directives from the top of the organization and convert it into plans for individual teams and team members, explaining why it matters and the role each person plays in putting the strategy into action. They also take the information frontline workers gather through interactions with customers and feed it back up through the system.”

Mid-level management is a tough job—and it can be especially challenging if managers don’t have the training and support required.

“If managers are not getting the support they need from the organization to grow and to meet the challenges that are required, they can feel stuck in the middle. When this happens, mid-level managers at the heart of the house can become disengaged and fall back into transacting business with their people in a way that causes the people to not care as much, to not understand as much about the importance of their work, and to not be as connected to the mission and vision of the company as they could be.”

The good news, according to Blanchard, is that there are approaches organizations can use to help mid-level managers get things done and build commitment in a way that creates positive regard and advocacy from employees.

Blanchard points to a couple of the programs in his company’s portfolio as an example. 

“It’s important to take a foundational approach when helping managers develop skills. The goal is to provide a framework managers can use to guide performance. Two of our training programs can help: Situational Leadership® II, which is our flagship product and the most widely taught leadership framework in the world today; and our new First-time Manager program, which is designed specifically for people stepping into leadership for the first time. Both programs teach managers important skills including how to effectively set goals, how to provide day-to-day coaching and support, how to engage in a partnership with direct reports, and how to have effective discussions around performance.”

On the emotional side of the equation, Blanchard points to programs like Building Trust and Optimal Motivation as examples of content designed by his company to help managers create a safe and engaged environment where people thrive.

“It’s about having useful conversations.  Leadership is about getting things done with and through people. Performance and results are one side of the coin and environment and commitment are the other side. You can’t do one without the other.”

Invest in Your Middle Managers

Blanchard believes that leading people requires middle managers to reevaluate and refresh their skills every year—including conversational skills, organizational skills, and the ability to understand and modify their leadership impact. He cautions that this is not something to be dealt with lightly.

“Organizations that don’t take mid-level manager training seriously always end up with problems,” he warns. “People need and want to work for a skilled manager. The best companies we work with take the training and development of their middle managers very seriously. They work on developing positive leadership from top to bottom. The best companies do not question the logic of investing in training. It’s only the companies that are struggling that do.”


Would you like to learn more about improving leadership skills in your organization? Then join us for a free webinar!

Designing a Leadership Curriculum for the Heart of Your Organization
Wednesday, June 1, 2016, 9:00 a.m. Pacific Time

Leadership is a skill.  And in today’s high demand business environment, it is a skill that needs to be refreshed regularly.  In this webinar Scott Blanchard will take a look at the skills middle managers need to succeed.
Participants will learn:

  • How strategic and operational leadership skills impact organizational performance—and which skills play the biggest role in employee engagement
  • The three skills managers need to develop first
  • How to take an inclusive both/and approach to leadership that meets the key needs of team members
  • Nine skill areas to consider when designing your leadership curriculum

Don’t miss this opportunity to explore how to design a curriculum for your mid-level leaders that allows them to bring out the best of the people in your organization.

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