Why you Need Middle Management

You’ve spent 10 gruelling years building a company. Many pioneer staff members have become experts in their fields; manning critical value centres. During the build up years, you opted for a lean and affordable HR structure. In doing so, you failed to recruit and groom successive generations of management staff. Now you’ve reached a growth and innovation ceiling.

Your current staff members are inundated with day-to-day processes and don’t have the time or capacity to seed new businesses or innovate. There are meetings you go to now where people look at you like an agbaya (senior person who shouldn’t deal with mundane matters).

You want to recruit new staff but onboarding entry-level recruits isn’t as easy as you thought. Your management staff are bogged down with minutiae; correcting basic process errors by recruits who are awed by them. They’re flummoxed by mentoring and training as there’s no documented step-by-step guide on how to do things in the first place. They weren’t ‘trained’ on how to do things so they don’t know how to train others. So you now have two classes of staff – top managers and neophytes. There’s no middle management comprising people who understand your culture and serve as a buffer, handling day-to-day requirements.

If you’re going through the scenario I’ve just painted, there are 2 solutions you may wish to explore – developing organic middle managers or developing inorganic middle managers.

Developing organic middle managers

If you still run a relatively young company, ensure there’s no more than 3 years between tranches of key recruits. This ensures your organisational culture is passed down from generation to generation in an unbroken manner.

Create clear job descriptions, deliverables and schedules for every role. No more doing things by instinct. Write things down. This makes onboarding of new staff relatively easy and helps you gauge which staff have managerial ability and can interpret basic guidelines with minimal supervision.

Document processes and information so nothing critical resides in the heads of individuals.

Tie a percentage of the remuneration of old staff to how well new staff members perform when they aren’t around. This will ensure they take training seriously and do not shield sub-standard staff.

Create clear development paths for staff; identify the training required to get there; and then invest in training.

Develop reasons for staff to keep working with you – culture, brand name, responsibility, autonomy, flexibility, profit sharing and ownership.

Developing inorganic middle managers

If you’ve been in business for a while and need experienced managers, you’re going to have to recruit them from outside your company.

The first thing to consider is whether you’re looking for managers to:

– Work for you
– Partner with you
– Build a business with you
If you’re looking for people to work for you, be sure you can pay them. The best minds usually dictate where they work and for how much. Can you compete with multinationals and large corporations for talent? If you can, then by all means, recruit them.

If you’re looking for people to partner with you to expand, then you’re more likely to succeed getting people to work on/in semi-autonomous projects or units. Here, they can receive a basic allowance while making the bulk of their income from profit sharing and bonuses. That way, you create a pay-for-performance structure that rewards delivery not potential. But make sure terms are explicit and your existing staff members also enjoy the fruits of new windfalls as a reward for their loyalty and dedication.

If you need people to build your business with you, then you’re looking at a long term proposition that’s a progression of the previous model. You begin with profit sharing or bonuses with an option for staff to receive equity in the unit/project they are directly responsible for. In other words, if staff members remain committed and the business grows over time, they can own a piece of it. Staff are given equity in the unit they are primarily responsible for and not the larger mother company, because they didn’t build it. To earn a seat at the main table, they need to prove themselves.

Profit sharing, bonuses and equity allow you to attract staff you would otherwise not be able to afford under a performance based arrangement. In doing so, you ensure that you do not overpay for talent or get stuck with staff who talk a good game but don’t deliver.

Whichever model you choose, clarity is of utmost importance. Terms and deliverables must be clearly spelt out and reviews done periodically to ensure vision alignment.

I sincerely wish you success in your business endeavour.



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