Middle management, oh dear!

Loved and hated, misunterstood and feared, an in between specie far from the grossroot but not yet the fat cat. The board expect from them to perform miracles, their employees to inspire affection and let them work in peace. They are chosen following different guidelines and policies, but I’ve been told there is one you should look for: the know-how. Let me explain.

A project manager in charge of a small team should have a basic knowledge of what every member of the team does. If I ask a subordinate to write a report, and I think it might take him 1 hour but in reality he needs 3, discomfort is guaranteed. Now multiply that discomfort for the amount of employees you have. I lost record how many times I’ve been told that my students don’t feel understood. «My supervisor doesn’t know what it takes to do my job» is the common complaint.

Let me put it in another way. Your kids are being too loud in the supermarket, so I aproach to you, out of the blue, to give you suggestions on how to improve your parenting style (because I have amazing theories about kids, of course). You may think I’m a snob, for I have no kids, not even a nice or nephew. My zero experience doesn’t qualify me as a parenting guru, inspite of all my reserch. But if I was a grandma, you would take my advice differently, and I would probably be more simpathetic to you too, because I’ve been there. A sympathetic approach has more possibly to be heard and considered than an authoritative one. If a middle manger has been there, he would be realistic about his expectations, thoughtful and not likely to be cheated.

If the know-how is missing, learning is always possible. In that case your should look for middle management willing to learn, eager to listen and humble enough be in their employees’ shoes. I’m not talking about micro-management either, controling every step of the process. I’ve noticed that very skilled employees need trust and freedom (and time) to use their potential. If they don’t feel respected as the professionals they are, they will keep to themselves their good ideas, won’t produce anything innovative or take their ideas somewhere else. This being said, treat your middle management they way you want them to treat their subordinates, let them reproduce what they’ve learnt from you. That will actually say more about you that anything you could say. Pass your vision, passion and wishes for your company with your deeds, not only in words.

Let diversity in!

Being a language teacher is a great thing. We get to talk to all kinds of people, hand workers, managers, HRs, receptionists, salespeople, researchers, etc. After some time I can’t help it but I really like them. In my more than 5000 class hours I can tell you I’ve disliked less participants than fingers are there in a hand.

They might not like what I do, I make their lifes harder by learning another language, but my job the very first day is making them like me so we can work together. My job is make bearable the unbearable, create a safe atmosphere so they want to come back. They are welcome, regardless our differences. They are accepted even if we don’t feel the same about the English language.

Let me ask you something, how healthy is your social life? Do you consume the same ideas and points of view all over again? when was the last time you exchanged ideas with someone whose point of view was opposed to yours? What about your inner circle, are you all in the same page? I’ve learned that growing comes when we talk to people in different possitions, with different qualification than ours, someone who sees the world from a different perspective. We are all pieces from the same puzzle, your piece might be big and shiny, still is not the whole picture. Humble yourself and you’ll be honored.

Allow people different than you to enter your circle. Allow them to differ. Allow them to show you their piece of the puzzle. I got this from a young student: he told me that companies whose board is formed by men and women are more flexibe, resistant and anticipate better to changes. That sounds like real team work to me. Working with people similar than me makes me a good friend, but working with those with opposite skills will enrich and widen my view (if we manage not to kill each other). Don’t repress different because you don’t understand it, there’s some truth in it.

Encorage your people to embrace new challenges. Part of your problems come from people rooted in one position, waiting for their retirement to come and willing to sabotage anything new. You run a company, not a club, so challenge the status. Be a processing agent not only by launching new products every year. And in that process, listen to those who oppose to you; consider their ideas, keep the usefull and dismiss the useless. What I expect from you is to be wise enough to distinguish from all the influences out there, wich one to keep. That’s why you are the boss, right?

A letter to the CEO and The Board.

There are many reasons why you shouldn’t read this.  I’ve never worked 8 hours in an office and my idea of wealth is going to a restaurant and not worring about the bill. I don’t have a fancy life, but I know something you don’t: your employees. I’m the girl coming to your company every week to improve the English skills of your workers; the one with a backpack and jeans you probably haven’t noticed. I’m the one who gets gifts from your people, the one who’s served coffee.

This is the whole section about, things I’ve learnt in your company from your people.

True character cannot be summarized in a CV.  Degrees and titles could be misleading and  you might miss true potential.  Getting to know people takes time and efford but it’s so worthy, and who knows, the future of your company might depend on them.  There are talents not easy to see at first sight. This is probably why you put so much money into consultant’s pockets, it’s like hiring someone talk to your children to tell you what they want for Christmas!  People come to you with a background, previous experiences and hidden skills and aspirations, and I know you are so busy and the board have no time to fraternize to everybody,  but would you agree with me that communication in key factor in business? Well, less than 10% is verbal, the rest is non verbal; that means, if you are not there physically, you missed it.

This is a good reason to invest in middle management. I know when you hire a middle manager you expect efficiency, but that is only going to keep the level. If you want to rise above then hire one with social skills; the one able to chat with the receptionists without missing the target. Hire one (or two) who are both, people and task oriented. It’s not possible to be liked by everybody, but if most of your employees like the middle management, consider yourself blessed.

And how would you know your employees are being taken care of? Maybe it’s time for you to take a coffee with them (and bring sweets!! the element of surprise may be beneficial).  Another option is talking to their English teacher.  Half of my work is creating a safe space for them to pour out their worries and stress.  They don’t care about present perfect if the atmosphere in the work place is tense or gloomy. I think of them as glasses, if they are full I can’t add anything more, so I need to empty them a bit so they might learn new things. Sometimes I feel like a psychologist talking about feelings. I should charge you for that too.

Your workforce is in the end your true treasure.  Take them out of the picture and you have nothing.  Motivate them with honest and selfless care, and you’ll have a strong business for the years to come.

Yours sincerily

The English teacher