Middle Management Muddling

I spoke with a prospective client this week whose group will be launching his business in a week.

The situation they are in reminds me of when I started in business in 1993 – three or four months in, one of my employees (who was 18 at the time) said, “Don’t you have things to do in the office? Why are you doing the stuff in the kitchen when we can do this, and you can do what you have to do?”

I was dumbstruck. This employee one of my best; I had met him six or so years earlier when he sat in my classroom when I taught Science in a private grammar school in Brooklyn. He did not strike me as a “take charge” kid then but as a teenager, he turned out to be one of the most integral parts of my expanding business. He is now pretty amazing in his own right – a Regional VP for a major company here in the Northeast. I listened to him then and heard the same things when I was a Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Initiative Scholar almost 20 years later – “work on your business, not in it”.

That being said, much of the work has been done over the last three to four months and by all accounts, they should be ready to soar come Monday. There is a major hurdle for them that as a Management Consultant, I see they will hit quite quickly. It comes under the heading of “management”.

This client has been in business for many years and the new launch is within the same industry but on a completely different scale, along with a different team than they are used to working with. This is a partnership, an expansion, and an introduction to truly thinking BIG.

With the launch, a complete organizational structure needs to be in place as there are 25 employees prior to open and another 25 to be on-boarded in the next week. By week four, a major holiday surge and employees will probably number around 100. Enter – Middle Management.

In my experience with small business, many are owned and operated by families or a group of friends – everybody knows everyone else; trust is at a premium and things are often handled with a meeting/shouting-match/dictator’s rule or, in some cases, court. But for the most part, everyone knows what is expected and the job gets done. In this case, with a growing, launching part of the business, the key to the success of this entity will be two-fold: middle management and communication.

When you have made the decision to bring on middle managers, you must foster a communications concept above anything you have every experienced before. You must lay out their tasks, responsibilities, corporate hierarchy and how your accountability system works. Middle managers must know what is expected of them, especially as these managers are usually task-oriented and goal-driven. Micro-managing by a boss, several bosses, partners, stakeholders of the middle management team will end in disaster. Processes and operations should be in place and these middle managers should be deferred to for input, changes, additions, and deletions to those systems.

In a perfect world, a middle management team also has a leader who can be from the same-level but should be a true leader that can direct well, listen as well as communicate and be that “oh-so-necessary” link from the team members to the owners. And if they can keep harmony between all the middle managers while ensuring their accountability – you have a winning combination on your hands.

In the world my prospective client is in, I hope that they understand that without the middle management tier of responsible, qualified, and experienced managers, the operation may get stalled more quickly than they realize. They are still a “prospective” client – not too happy with my assessment after a week of study but old habits die hard, and change does not agree with some people – AT ALL.

I’ll let you know how this works out…..

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