Magicians of the Mid-Tier – Why unlocking mid-level management is key to business success
By Chris Paton, Managing Director at Quirk Solutions
As we navigate our way through an ever-shifting business environment – made more fraught by a seemingly unending state of international crisis and the Great Resignation – leaders in organisations across the world have been racking their brains about how to retain talent and unlock their teams’ full potential.
Luckily though, there are many ways to allow your team to succeed. To put it simply, it is imperative to ensure that every level of your organisation is empowered and supported in order to ensure that all the cogs are turning seamlessly. By fully understanding every individual, rather than treating the team as a mass commodity, you will enable your employees to be the best versions of themselves and deliver their best work. The catalyst to this is often to place a focus on instilling agility.
Whilst agility was originally framed around technology, it is now a complete ethos that should be ingrained in the very fabric of an organisation. In the modern business world, being agile is best defined as ‘encouraging a working environment and culture that allows teams to be nimble and adapt quickly to both internal and external changes’.
Agility, when done properly, can be typified by an organisation that is highly efficient, low on cost base, high on productivity and high on employee engagement, which will then lead to business success. High employee engagement is particularly critical. Nobody wants to come to work and do a bad job. When staff are treated as faceless entities, they start behaving as such. More often than not they will simply turn up, clock on, do what they are told, then clock off and go home again. Their engagement levels are zero.
But for it to be successful, the concept needs to be fully embraced by leadership teams; they must show that they are, as David Marquet says: “Pushing the authority down to where the information sits, not dragging the information up to the authority”.
Nimble leadership and team members who are open to creating an agile working environment will help foster cross-functional teams, seamless connections between levels and engaged team members. It is very important though that this is not mistaken for having no hierarchy or a ‘flat structure’ within an organisation – many have tried and failed with this approach, including Google. It’s all about the leaders of an organisation creating a flexible and empowered environment from the top-down. This means unlocking and trusting the full potential of all levels within the team, especially the mid-tier level.
In my experience, the more latitude a team is given, the more productive and nimble it becomes. By encouraging the senior leaders to embrace the views and allowing contributions from the younger, more junior generation of workers who are involved in the day-to-day activity, this can help unlock the necessary needs of a company to help it pivot and reach business goals.
A perfect example of this being implemented is by the Dutch home-care organisation, Buurtzorg. It has around 15,000 employees that are split into independent teams of 12 people, each made up of a mixture of individuals and levels. Each team has total control of their operations – including budgets, business development, recruitment, profit and loss, and more. By implementing this strategy, Buurtzorg has reported a 30% higher customer satisfaction, 65% less overhead than its competitors, and more importantly, 50% less staff turnover.
The mid-tier, which is made up of managers, team leads, and supervisors, is often underestimated by organisations in their recruitment, transformation and structural consideration. However, in many ways the mid-tier is the gearbox of the business. By empowering them and giving ownership within a mutually agreed set of parameters, the team will move towards a clearly defined intention, and this can lead to faster decision-making and give a business the ability to adapt or pivot more seamlessly. However, without proper investment, this gearbox will stall.
This group often hold the key to pushing a business to the next level, as they are a fountain of knowledge amid the day-to-day action. The mid-tier is an essential hub within any organisation. Leaders can utilise this by ensuring that every layer of the business knows exactly what is going on at their level – from the most senior, to the mid-tier, to the juniors. Businesses can then harness this knowledge and create a single overarching picture of the organisation and allow the team to react accordingly.
All too often the mid-tier is constrained by an organisation’s outdated internal culture processes and leadership behaviours. Future looking businesses need to invest and reinvest in their mid-tier in order to be the driving force for today’s tomorrow. Business leaders ignore the mid-tier at their peril – unlocking it can lead to business magic. It is a critical pillar in future-proofing businesses and has a big role to play in empowering staff to be more inclusive, adaptable and agile.
Those early adopter businesses, such as Buurtzorg, that have started to move to agile structures by building “team of teams” connections across all layers of the business have done so to great effect. Involving the mid-tier more effectively helps create a culture where teams can make decisions and tackle challenges independently and rapidly. Doing so provides those staff with a greater sense of engagement and happiness, minimising churn and improving their chances of success.
In an era of uncertainty, where no one can predict the next crisis, trusting and empowering your team at all times will provide you with the agility you need to outmanoeuvre the competition regardless of circumstance.
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