Leadership Skills Profitable To Train

Will Your Business Succeed? It Depends On Your Middle Managers.

We all know the proverb, “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day.  Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.”  This premise is the key to success of any company and has greatly impacted my career development.

For years I have consulted with businesses that care about their position in the market and want to gain a competitive advantage.  To do this I carry out a three-step process:

  1. Evaluate a company by “shopping and experiencing” them as a customer would.  Using my experience, and knowing how an organization should function from the operational level, it is quickly evident which areas are strengths and which are points of concern for my client.

  2. Train with sessions that focus on the challenges I found along with any concerns the company owner might have asked me to concentrate on.

  3. Consult with senior management, about all levels of their organization; I share the information garnered and present a plan that highlights opportunities to improve their employees and company’s sales and service skills.  Sometimes my message is a brutally honest reflection of where the business falls short.  Other times the message is composed of simple changes, a few small practices here and there, proven to increase revenue in a targeted area of the business.  I categorize these two approaches as either taking a sledgehammer (often the first time I visit) or a fine chisel (on repeat visits) to get the company to their next step of development.

It is a great plan of attack that has worked for almost every client who has hired me.  Using the three steps above, every business can find hidden (sometimes even obvious) sources of revenue and opportunities of customer care that they are not yet utilizing. I am almost always hired to return because the techniques I share earn an extra $100,000 to $1,000,000+ per year.

Warning and Disclaimer:  The only time my program is not effective, is when managers fail to execute any of the suggestions they are given.  When that happens it disappoints me almost to despair.  Did that sound unprofessional?  Too bad – I am not a robot!  In rare instances, companies hire me with the hopes that I have a magic wand to wave.  They will not carry out any of the changes I suggest and after I leave, they wonder why they don’t see massive improvements.  It is a sore point I should get over – if companies want to hire me for a week and then not follow-up internally – I should just take their money and run.  It does bother me however!  I care about the people I have worked with and gotten to know that week.  It is an awful feeling; meeting wonderful employees, sharing new ideas, getting them enthusiastic about the possibilities, etc…and then seeing their own managers let them down.  Disappointing is an understatement, it is actually heartbreaking.

Think I am overly emotional on this point?  True story:

I was hired a couple of years ago to work with a team of 150 employees for a week of training.  They were a typical group, a colorful mix of smart, funny, lazy, young, old, promising, and sarcastic employees.  Only two or three were real trouble, the rest were just a bit neglected and shy on updated information.  I sparked their imaginations, got them to work together and feel proud of the company they work for – my usual satisfying week.  Friday afternoon I met with the manager, who said, “We like what you did and will hire you next year in our new location.”  I asked where that was and he explained that the office I just trained was set to be closed down in a year.  No one would be relocated and they are opening another office in a cheaper market.  I thanked him for his time and said goodbye (it is just business after all).  Then I walked out of the office and said ‘see you later’ to all the employees in their cubicles.  –Just business indeed.  I kept it together and did what I was paid to do, but it was a tough day.

I am not the only consultant who offers this service, but what makes my business different is the tailored approach I offer.  I work with global companies that cater to a luxury market.  This means taking into account variances in cultures (both the company and the country) to deliver a message in a way they are able to receive.  Every group I work with has a different perspective, history, and vision of what is possible.  They also have different clients with their own cultures and expectations.  I help to bridge communication gaps between the business and the clients they serve.

I tell teams that if they continue doing the same tired methods over and over they will not allow themselves to evolve.  It is important that I take my advice and so I have recently incorporated another element into the services I give.  If you are still reading this (long) blog post, keep going – I think I have discovered the secret to every company’s success.

“Discover” is such a strong word.  Did Columbus discover America?  Did Marconi discover the radio?  Who really discovered pasta?  Perhaps it is more of a realization, but I will stand by the word for now, because if more people knew this secret, everyone would do it.  Here goes:

Train your middle managers to manage their team!

Sort of anticlimactic perhaps, but true just the same.  I travel an average of 300 days a year.  I work weekends, holidays, in all sorts of environments and here is what I have noticed: 99% OF MY CLIENTS DO NOT HAVE MANAGERS WHO MANAGE!!!  It is truly the missing link between watching employees every second for mistakes vs. trusting employees to do the right thing when you are on vacation.  Sounds overly simple, but that is usually where the best ideas come from.

A “perfect” managerial world (in my opinion):

  • Employees and Supervisors are informed partners in a business.  They are the bridge of communication between the clients and the management.  They have been hired to do their best for the company, trained well, and are continually developed to stay motivated.  They are viewed by the company as their greatest assets and trusted to make good decisions that take the welfare of the client and company into account.  When a mistake is made, the employee’s actions are discussed with their manager/mentor in a positive way.  There are benchmarks set for them to follow and goals they are held responsible for.  Good employees often want to become managers but in some instances are happy to stay in their current position as long as it remains mentally challenging.  Never forgetting that while managers set policies and procedures, employees talk to the client (guy with the wallet).  Keeping them informed and empowered is crucial.

  • Middle Managers are bridge between the employees and upper management.  They are also “the fighter of fires” so to speak, solving daily problems that have escalated above the capabilities or experience level of the employee.  They inform employees about the financial success or challenges of the company, share the goals of their department and report to the employees if previous goals were/were not met.  They are the sources of inspiration for new ideas and know each individual employee’s strengths and weaknesses.  They regularly communicate messages from upper management to their team so that everyone has the same targets, but just as importantly they fearlessly communicate results and challenges back up the ladder, providing a voice and buffer for their employees.  It is equally important to explain the expectations of the management to the employees, as it is to set the expectations of the employees’ current skill level to the managers.  Virtually every middle manager aspires to be promoted to upper management, but most will not succeed.  Often failure results from an inability to juggle all priorities at once.

  • Upper Managers are the bridge between middle managers and business owners.  They must be forward thinking and able to multi task.  A talented upper manager will make decisions that have positive ramifications on the business for years to come, and they must be strategic and deliberate.  They should be open to hearing about the challenges the middle managers face and act as mentors to develop their skill levels.  A confident upper manager knows that by building confidence in others, everyone will be able to work more independently.  I have seen incompetent upper managers threaten, bully, harass, ignore, and berate their middle managers, causing self-doubt all around, and a shaky foundation for the business.  Upper managers also need to have vision and be able to communicate that in a message that will be received and acted upon.  They also need to be able to manage owner expectations instead of “yessing” them to death, under delivering, and wondering why trust has eroded.  There is little room on the pyramid for upper managers and that is because they are rare.  When managers are promoted into this level of power for the right reasons, they are unstoppable and positively impact many lives.

So how is your organization doing compared to my “perfect world” scenario?  As mentioned earlier, for the past few years I have worked with employees and supervisors, and it has been effective.  However, to make real improvements on a company’s culture my newest focus is on Middle Managers.  This crucial position seems to be the most neglected and under-utilized, even though they are the lynch pin to getting things accomplished.  Interested?  I am currently booking for 2015 – and all of my current clients are going to receive attention in this area.  Please contact me at kate.buhler@profitabletotrain.com to hear more.

Have a profitable day!

Kate Buhler

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