Grow middle managers

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Editor’s note: This is the third in a series on the value of middle managers and ways to develop their potential.

You recognize that José has that little extra that makes him a potential candidate for middle management. Now, it’s time to grow him into the position.

This might require a shift in your mental process, as José is likely very different from you and he may not do things the same way. This can be frustrating, but you need to trust and respect José if he is going to be successful in his new position.

Recognize the role you play (as the owner) to teach José how to be a manager. Show him how to be the manager you need. “The leader you’ve identified may turn out to be a poor manager if you don’t spend the time to teach him,” says Tom Fuhrmann, veterinarian and owner of DairyWorks, a management-consulting firm in Arizona.

Here is how to grow José into a middle manager.

1. Initiate a conversation

It can be as simple as, “José, I’ve been watching your work and I like what you’ve been doing. Would you like to take on some additional responsibility?”

If you give José an extra project, it allows him to take on additional responsibility and you can see how he handles it, says Fuhrmann.

Ease him into it. If you promote José straightaway, without telling him why or teaching him how, you’ll throw him a curve ball. 

Remember, the career of a worker and a manager are two different things. By making José a manager, you are not only giving him a promotion, you are essentially asking him to change careers, explains Bernie Erven, professor emeritus of agricultural management at Ohio State University.

And, there are cultural differences that can affect this process.

2. Teach technical skills

Spend time teaching José the technical skills he needs. José needs to feel confident in making cow-side decisions.

Pair him with another manager or employee so he can learn the technical skills he may not have.   A buddy system like this works well at Jon-De Farms in Baldwin, Wis. “We pair our key employees with our current middle managers so they can learn new skill-sets,” says Liz Doornink, co-owner and human resources manager for Jon-De Farms.

Jon-De Farms also offers off-farm training to its potential middle managers. This includes employee-management classes.

Tap into the businesses and veterinarians that you work with. They can be great resources for teaching technical skills.

3. Inform the other employees

Hold a meeting to announce José’s new position. Tell the other employees that the success of the dairy is impacted by the success of José in his new position, and his success is based on all of their successes. State the roles and responsibilities of the new supervisor, so everyone hears the same thing. Without making it main part of the conversation, mention whether José will be making hiring and firing decisions.

If you don’t follow this step, you will get resistance and sabotage, says Jorge Estrada, leadership coach and trainer with Leadership Coaching International.

Reinforce the change when an employee approaches you directly on an issue. Encourage the employee to work with the new manager instead. 

Formalize José’s role in your operation. Post an organizational chart that shows the new structure of the dairy.

4. Coach the employee

Recognize the role that you play as a coach and mentor to José. The opportunity to coach occurs almost every day.

Take the time to dissect situations. For example, how would you handle the following situation if it occurred on your dairy?

Manuel is a middle manager that you recently promoted. He comes to you because he is frustrated with one of the milkers. The milker says he is doing a good job, but Manuel knows that the milker does not follow correct procedures.

Do you (as the owner)?

A. Talk to the milker yourself.

B. Let Manuel handle it. 

If you picked A, how do you teach Manuel to handle the situation without your intervention? Instead, ask Manuel some thought-provoking questions:

  • What is the situation and how have you handled it until now?
  • How did you leave the situation with the milker?
  • What do you see as the problem?
  • What do you think is the appropriate course of action?
  • What would you tell the milker?
  • What would you do differently next time?

“If you coach your middle managers through different situations, you prepare them to handle them in the future,” says Estrada.

5. Delegate responsibility

Give José the power to make decisions and enforce them. Delegation is critical to the development of your middle manager. Over time, your delegation of authority to the middle manager should increase.

Provide policies and standard operating procedures to guide middle manager decisions.

6. Monitor and provide feedback

Provide feedback to José on an on-going basis.

Let him know if he is doing a good job or whether he needs to improve. Be clear on your standards. Show him results and compare them to your goals and expectations.

In addition, you need to teach José how to train and monitor other employees and provide feedback to them. And, by providing regular feedback to José on his performance, you give him an example to follow when it comes to other employees.

7. Reward him

Recognize José in his new position. At a minimum, there should be some adjustment in compensation — it does not have to be monetary. A shirt that says his name and title or business cards are two examples of non-monetary rewards. For some people, title will be enough of a reward, says Erven.

Recognize the differences between cultures

Be aware that there are differences between cultures, which could influence how you promote and train middle managers. 

Liz Doornink, co-owner and human resources manager at Jon-De Farms in Baldwin, Wis., acknowledges there are times when employees do not want to move into a middle manager’s position because it would mean having to supervise people from the same part of Mexico that they had come from.   

Remember, it is a relationship change being a manager versus a member of the group. This can be a difficult transition for Hispanics, since they tend to focus on group dynamics rather than individual well-being. An individual may fear segregation from the group that he came from. The group might have the attitude of “who do you think you are now?” toward the new supervisor. 

To overcome these cultural differences, follow the steps outlined in this article.



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