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July 1, 2011
Overcoming the Middle-Management Squeeze
 

Managing people under the best of circumstances is challenging. Managing a team and a client (or three) is very challenging. Whether you are a newly promoted manager, are now formally managing a friend, or are now responsible for more people than you ever have been, you’re likely doing all of this with fewer manager “support tools” than you had a few years ago. 

Historically, the middle managers within agencies had a lot of tools and support in the form of multiday leadership-development programs (often in warm climates), mentoring programs, and in some cases, executive coaches. They received a lot of coaching, training, and mentoring about how to lead. This not only prepared middle managers for specific scenarios, but also provided them with cohort groups of other managers with whom to share experiences.

Now, because of a fewer development options, “on pause” programs, and less communication from the top, middle managers are holding what seems to be weight of their agencies on their shoulders and are being “squeezed” from all around.

The teams they manage are asking about performance reviews, raises, promotions, training, and revised benefits packages. More importantly, they want to know if any of these things are coming back. The middle manager isn’t getting a lot of information and therefore doesn’t have a lot of answers. 

These über-managers are also responsible for running accounts, delivering campaigns, ensuring that their clients and bosses are happy, and making certain that team members are motivated...all at agency light-speed. 

In the midst of a squeeze, what can a middle manager, supervisor, or director do to make things a little easier?

1. Talk about change. A middle manager has to communicate a lot of change, all of the time (team shifts, changing policies, etc.). However, what people really want to know is how it’s going to affect them. As a manager, talk to your team about what's changing, what's not, who's affected, and when the change is going to start and stop. Answer what you can of these questions, and if you don't have the answers, go to back to your boss and clarify.

2. Be honest. If you don't know and need to go back and get more information, say that. Being honest and telling people what you know (and more importantly don’t know) will help to establish crucial trust and credibility with your team.  

3. Leverage your network. There are still a number of development resources still available within the holding companies. If management tools or training are no longer available or “on pause” within your own agency, as a revenue-generating member of your particular holding company, look across it for programs, resources, and tools that can be leveraged or attended by you and/or team members. Your HR team or manager will know how to navigate the process of attendance.

If you’re not part of a holding company, speak with your network and trade associations and with your clients to see what might be available to you as an agency partner. In the past, I’ve asked clients to come on site and deliver client-led training (informal chats about their businesses). This not only helped to foster the relationship with the client, but it gave non-client facing team members great exposure to, in some cases, senior-level clients. 

4. Prioritize. You aren't going to be manager of the year unless you ensure that your own basic needs are being met (this includes eating lunch). It's been a tough few years, and while you've felt the brunt of it, make sure that you are clear on what you need as a manager from your agency, boss, and team and be clear in communicating and creating it.

Just remember, when the day is getting particularly tough, take a step back and remember that you're leading that team of 15 people for a reason.

The views expressed are the sole views of Robyn Lahlein and do not represent those of any current or former organizations or clients.


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Robyn Lahlein is a Talent Development and Organizational Strategy consultant who has worked internally and externally for clients and agencies within the advertising, marketing, media and financial services sectors for the past 10 years. She holds her Masters in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University and is a business contributor to TheDailyBeast.com. The views expressed are the sole views of Robyn Lahlein and do not represent those of any current or former organizations or clients.

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