Are You Bridging the Gap or Stuck in the Middle?
Sometimes being in the middle leaves you feeling left out. The demands managers face today can be overwhelming, causing you to wonder if accepting this promotion or position was such a good idea after all. For some people, the answer will be no, it wasn't such a good idea. On the other hand, many people do enjoy or even thrive on the challenges that come with being a manager.
Organizations, whether for-profit or not-for-profit, must be in a constant state of development. The market requires this in response to new technology, changing trends, and shifting opportunities. Managers must be ready to adjust to these demands as well. Sometimes your role is to interpret the change for employees and help them adjust to it, especially when it results in corporate policy that directly affects them. Sometimes your role is to listen to employees, collect their suggestions and reactions, and interpret those for upper management.
People spend more of their waking hours at work than anywhere else. If you aren't having any fun when you're at work, those are long hours indeed. As a manager, it's your responsibility to cultivate a work environment that employees find supportive and pleasant.
A savvy manager sees change as opportunity and is able to actively bridge the gap. To do this effectively, you must be a good listener and a good diplomat, as well as able to get things done through prioritizing and implementing action. Unfortunately, managers often shy away from bridging the gap. This reflects their insecurity with change. They don't want to expend the extra energy required to be an active rather than a passive manager.
Jolene was a manager whose hands-off yet supportive style engendered tremendous loyalty among the employees who reported to her. The work group was open, fun, and hardworking. But Jolene's style wasn't as popular with the superiors to whom she reported, who felt uninformed about her work group's activities. As the company grew, upper management wanted all managers to establish better procedures to account for staff time and resources, and to shift assignments among employees for improved efficiency. Jolene resisted these efforts, believing they were unnecessary intrusions into her work group's operations. As a result, the company put a new manager in place between Jolene and upper management, in effect curtailing Jolene's authority.
The new manager, Marilyn, was more formal and procedure-oriented, and Jolene didn't like her. Though Marilyn's approach was much more consistent with the direction the company was headed, Jolene continued to resist. She badmouthed Marilyn to her employees and encouraged them to resist Marilyn's changes. The tactic backfired. Jolene and her most loyal employees lost their jobs when Marilyn, implementing upper management directives, reorganized the department. Instead of stepping up as a leader and bridging the gap between employees and the company, closing the distance between the old ways and the new ways, Jolene allowed herself to become trapped in the middle and ultimately squeezed out.
It can be difficult to be the bridge, especially if you disagree with the company's new direction or methods. But resistance is generally futile and ends up tainting your reputation. Jolene was, overall, a good manager. She just couldn't respond to the demands of change, and it cost not only her but also her employees. If your disagreements about upper management directives are strong, you have an obligation to discuss them with your superiors. But as a manager, you have an equal obligation to support those directives in dealing with your employees. By doing so, you help them change and adapt if that's what they choose to do, and you keep yourself well positioned to move on to other opportunities.
As a manager, you may wonder what difference, if any, you make in the work lives of the people who report to you. It's a greater difference than you think, reports the January 2006