T+D January 09 //Intelligence//

Middle Manager Muddle

Stress piles high on the manager’s desk.

By Michael Laff

They get beaten over the head by executives who want them to be more productive and by staff who are discouraged by their leadership style.

Being a middle manager does not hold the status it once did. Accenture recently conducted a survey of job satisfaction among middle managers that revealed how heightened expectations are tied directly to increased frustration.

Many sources of frustration are external, such as insufficient compensation, lack of advancement opportunities, and fears of downsizing. But other concerns reflect the burdens brought on by the overlapping roles managers are expected to play.

When asked to cite the most frustrating aspects of the job, participants cite an increasing workload (36 percent), not receiving enough credit for their work (32 percent), having no clear career path (31 percent), and getting less support to work effectively (31 percent).

The lean organization mantra now demands that middle managers be both performers and conductors. Instead of simply supervising, they are being pushed to do more task-based work, creating a hybrid performer that Dave Smith, director of Accenture’s Talent & Organization Performance practice, refers to as “lead, manage, do.”

Middle managers must change outfits frequently, and the new garb is not fitting particularly well. Where middle managers traditionally acted as a bridge between staff and executives, that role has diminished thanks to changing realities in the workplace.

“Senior executives now communicate directly with the workforce,” Smith says. “The middle layer feels threatened by this.”

Not surprisingly, middle managers believe that Millenials are the most difficult group to manage. What might aggravate the situation is the lack of preparation the same mangers receive in terms of learning how to collaborate and work with younger staff. Regardless of their age, only 20 percent of managers report receiving some kind of training to overcome the generational divide.

The roles are no longer clear, as managers spend as much time learning as they do teaching.

“In the past, they were expected to be mentors,” Smith says. “Now they are expected to mentor and be mentored.”

With greater transparency about the inner workings of an organization comes heightened expectations from the younger generations. Smith says middle managers should receive training about providing rapid feedback, using social networking tools, motivating effectively, and allowing greater fluidity to try multiple job assignments—all oft-cited preferences of the Millenials.

Smith acknowledged that many of the critical views managers hold against Millenial workers are the byproducts of an older generation believing that its successors do not respect authority or expect too much from an employer.

In their current role, middle managers' priorities are shifting to leading multiple generations and increasing productivity among themselves and staff. What’s less important is managing a single business unit.

T+D January 09 //work life// 

Letting Go of the Micro

By Aparna Nancherla

Despite being an accomplished and successful mid-level manager in a financial services firm, Beatrix was tiring of the close scrutiny from her boss Peter.

Many employees share similar experiences with Beatrix: an overaggressive supervisor who micromanages their work and stifles independence. But instead of passively hoping his behavior would improve, Beatrix decided to take action.

On the advice of a communications coach, rather than waiting for an angry call or email from Peter, Beatrix would send an email with daily project updates, and she set up a weekly call as another progress report. Peter then
began to back off.

“Micromanagement is a function of the manager’s lack of trust in the professional abilities of the employee,” says Patrick McWhinney, CEO and co-founder of Insight Partners, a consulting firm. “In Beatrix’s case, her manager is not in the same office and assumes, in part, that she simply isn’t putting in the necessary hours.”

A number of employees report limited autonomy at work, constantly being checked on by their managers for everything short of using the restroom. Approximately two in five workers reported being micromanaged by their boss frequently or occasionally, according to a survey by the consultancy BlessingWhite.

The survey consisted of 524 employed Americans, including both full-time and part-time positions, and was conducted via phone.

“Micromanagement really affects employee engagement, and it’s a waste of the manager’s time. You are interfering with how people do their work and also their ability to get it done,” says Cathy Earley, senior consultant and coaching practice leader at BlessingWhite.

Earley notes that constant monitoring of employees and teams deprives them of learning how to be self-sufficient and how to use their own judgment and creativity in tackling projects and decisions.

Earley explains that employers should provide all the project details including non-negotiable elements (“the what”) so as to help their employees distill these variables into a solution (“the how”), which is then executable within the scope of the employee’s capacities.

She says that both the employer and the employee need to maintain accountability for their responsibilities and clearly communicate when there is a need for further support or guidance.

“Rebuilding a healthy working relationship from one of rampant micromanagement takes far more time than it does for the relationship to be damaged,” McWhinney says.

T+D January 09 //technology// 

Tech Masters

By Ann Pace

It may come as no surprise that an employee’s age is a tell-tale indicator of his approach to technology.

Millennial employees look beyond salary and benefits when choosing their employer. They are increasingly seeking companies that accommodate their personal technology preferences.

Young professionals report a growing demand for high-tech devices to connect with colleagues, friends, and family, according to a recent study by Accenture. In addition, 60 percent of Millennials are either not acquainted with their companies’ IT policies or are not prone to follow them.

“The Millennial generation has attitudes and expectations that are very different from prior generations,” says Gary Curtis, Accenture’s chief technology strategist. “They have grown up multitasking with an array of personal digital devices and networking capabilities that the digital world enables.”

The study of 400 U.S. Millennial students and employees (aged 14 to 27) uncovered trends that companies need to adapt to as quickly as Millennials adopt them.

Millennials are selective about their preferred technology tools. More than 20 percent of respondents stated that employer-supplied technologies did not meet their expectations. Another 52 percent said that state-of-the-art technology is an important factor in selecting an employer.


Younger employees do not feel a need to seek approval for technology use in the office. Respondents admitted to using or accessing applications that are not supported by their employers for work-related activities, including mobile phones, instant messaging, and social networking sites.

Finally, the Millennial employee is redefining the technology boundaries within the office as he seeks alternative communication channels. Younger employees spend fewer hours per week than their older colleagues sending and receiving work-related email. Instead, Millennials prefer using online chat, instant messaging, and RSS feeds to correspond with customers.

However, only 6 percent of survey respondents say their organization provides online chat and instant messaging, while 21 percent say that they should.

“The message from Millennials is clear. To lure them into the workplace, prospective employers must provide state-of-the-art technologies,” Curtis says. “In order to acquire and retain the best talent, organizations must understand the technologies that the new workforce expects and then find a way to support their employees without compromising enterprise security.”

T+D January 09 //leadership//

Sounding Succession Alarms

By Paula Ketter

The uncertainty of the current economy is forcing companies to prepare for the unexpected, but a recent study by AchieveGlobal shows that many have no plans in place to fill executive vacancies within their organizations.

Of the 144 talent management executives who participated in the study, “Ensuring Leadership Continuity: Current Trends in Succession Planning for C-Suite Executives,” 49 percent admitted that they currently do not have an established succession plan for C-suite executives. Sixteen percent acknowledged that they have an executive vacancy, while another 37 percent expect to have a vacancy in their C-suite executive team in 2009.

“Whether realized or not, there is a real urgency for companies to develop comprehensive succession plans,” says AchieveGlobal CEO Sharon Daniels. “For years, we have heard that it is very difficult for organizations to find the resources they need to create a succession plan. With many companies laying off individuals, it is probably affecting some of the groups of people who would be involved in creating the plan.”

Survey respondents admitted that two major benefits of having a succession plan in place are maintaining continuity while ensuring a smooth transition and having candidates who are groomed and ready to step into the vacancy. They also cited employee retention as a benefit.

“You probably only have to go through a C-suite executive vacancy once to realize the importance of having a plan,” Daniels says. “Organizations look at the massive amount of work that needs to be done, instead of examining how to create a strategy for managing talent and slowly chipping away at the process.”

Survey respondents cited the complexity of the plan, the massive time investment, and the incurred budget expense as major reasons for not creating a succession plan.

“For Fortune 500 or 1,000 companies, it is the board’s responsibility to impress upon the company how important it is to have a plan in place,” Daniels explains. “For smaller organizations, there may not be a group of individuals holding the organization accountable, but it is critically important to realize that this task should be part of an overall talent management strategy.”

Most executives surveyed said their companies are good at analyzing C-suite pipeline gaps, identifying talent pools, and monitoring and evaluating executives. But some admitted that their companies lack effectiveness in developing executives, communicating succession strategies for executives, transitioning C-suite candidates into their new roles, and developing and implementing succession strategies.

“This survey shows that people are thinking about succession planning, but they haven’t actually cracked the code on how you implement it and keep it going effectively,” Daniels says.

T+D January 09 //fast fact//

Gender Deficiency

Half of California’s 400 largest public companies have no women in top executive offices, according to a study undertaken by University of California, Davis researchers. Almost half of the companies do not have a woman on the board of directors.

Nearly one-third of the large companies with headquarters in the state, including McAfee, Quicksilver, and Hansen Natural, do not have a woman in either a top executive post or on the corporate board.

The UC Davis Study of California Women Business Leaders found that only 13 of California’s 400 largest public companies have a woman CEO. Overall, women hold just 10.9 percent of board seats and executive positions—insignificant progress from 2007, when the figure was 10.4 percent, and from 2006 and 2005, when it was 10.2 percent.

For the second year in a row, the top company was Nara Bancorp Inc., which serves consumers and minority-owned businesses through 21 branches in California, New Jersey, and New York. Half of the company’s executive and board seats are held by women.

Joining Nara Bancorp in the top five were Bare Escentuals, with women in 45.5 percent of top leadership posts; Bebe Stores, with women in 42.9 percent of top leadership posts; AMN Healthcare Services, with women at 36.4 percent; and Hot Topic, at 36 percent.

T+D January 09 //Info Graph//

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