As organisational leaders, it is important to remember we are not just managers of managers but also responsible for helping our managers and team leaders evolve with the changing times. If we do not do this, the people we need to lead transformation can become barriers to transformation themselves.
The last two years have been particularly tough for managers and team leaders. With dwindling resources and opportunities, leaders asked them to reach for stretched targets. Most stuck to the task even as they lost people or new situations emerged.
However, many of them felt alone, unsure, tired and worn down by increasingly challenging circumstances. At the exact time when making personal changes was required most, it became the most difficult time to do it. Now they need their leaders’ help so they can help their people in turn.
I spent a lot of time during the pandemic coaching and helping my people, and in talking to other leaders, I noticed some interesting things. Junior and new people were flexible when it came to adopting new practices or approaches we discussed, but a lack of experience meant they could only be effective to a certain degree. Many of them did not have the knowledge and contingency/Plan B thinking of more experienced managers. They also did not have sufficient support to change the situation.
At the same time, many middle managers failed to adapt how they were leading and managing their teams to help their junior team members succeed. Perhaps the pressure for results kept them focused on what they were doing and meant they could not spend sufficient time helping their team members succeed.
Perhaps the rapid shift to a virtual environment meant they did not know how to get close to their teams. Maybe they were tired of the endless rounds of Zoom meetings. Perhaps they assumed that what they passed on to their teams was understood and that their team members would know how to apply it.
Their teams may be younger and more tech-savvy. They may feel uncertain as many of their proven practices have become obsolete. They may struggle to be effective teachers of others because their success to date was due to their prowess in their discipline. You can imagine the effects on morale and effectiveness of the team and the manager in these circumstances.
I believe they now need to adjust and reframe their understanding of their role. As we enter the unknown, they need to educate and empower their teams. Managers must also learn to become more effective in creating connections between team members so new insights and an understanding of “what is working” can be quickly shared and iterated.
During the pandemic it was not always the most experienced people who came up with innovations or noticed the shifts in customers’ lives. Managers who created an environment of shared wisdom, rather than independent actors, were able to better raise the entire team’s performance.
Managers need coaching and to become coaches. Organisational leaders must help them achieve this transformation. Organisational leaders need to be sensitive and remember these middle managers and team leaders are people. Even though leaders themselves are under more pressure than ever before, they need to spend more time helping their managers succeed.
Leaders need middle managers to help to create transformation at scale. They need them to first update/upskill their management and leadership approaches for this hybrid era. Training alone will not achieve this goal. Managers need coaching to become coaches in their turn. They need to help them identify and learn the skills that will make a difference, and ensure these skills grow in their teams.
Organisational leaders must also understand this is not a one-shot and done situation. In transforming their management approach for the new normal, managers will need support and community. Leaders need to ensure that managers can make sense of the situation and what they are now practising. They need to ensure that the managers understand their transformation experience and replicate it in their context with their teams. When we do not know the answer, this form of learning journey, rather than training, is essential.
It is time for an update. The alternative is doing what companies such as Haier, Zappos and others did and removing layers of management. But frankly, many organisations are not ready for this step yet, or set up to succeed.
Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC — Southeast Asia’s Lifelong Learning Center. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or https://www.linkedin.com/in/arinya-talerngsri-53b81aa. Talk to us about how SEAC can help your business during times of uncertainty at https://forms.gle/wf8upGdmwprxC6Ey9