Podcast Ep 123 | Seven Valuable Ways to Help Develop Middle Managers

How do you develop middle managers? As companies grow, the gap tends to be in middle management.  As people are so busy working, they rarely get the development time, resources and attention needed for the growth that is required to develop talent from within. As a result, companies end up having to hire external team members to strengthen the team – many more than they would like.

And the existing team stagnates.

In this episode, Brad Giles and Kevin Lawrence talk about seven important steps you can take to develop valuable internal talent, and grow the next important level of middle management leaders.




Please note that this episode was transcribed using an AI application and may not be 100% grammatically correct – but it will still allow you to scan the episode for key content.

Kevin Lawrence  00:13

Welcome to the Growth Whisperers podcast where we talk every week about building enduring, great companies. Enduring is not just about endurance, it’s about greatness over time and building upon success after success. And lesson after lesson. I’m Kevin Lawrence in Vancouver, BC, Canada, joined here by my co host, Brad Giles down in Perth, Australia, Brad, how’s it going today?

Brad Giles  00:39

It’s pretty good. Thank you. I hope you’re doing well.

Kevin Lawrence  00:41

I am, so word of the day. What’s the word that’s resonating most with you today?

Brad Giles  00:50

Look, it’s not what you think it’s going to be it’s job scorecards. I’ve written this book about onboarding. It’s going to come out one day soon. No, seriously, it’s all complete, and it’s hopefully only a month or two away. But a key part of that is the job scorecards and building the job scorecards correctly. And because I’ve done a lot of this work with the teams that I work with, all of the job, scorecards have been refined and changed and are much better quality. So job scorecards is on my mind.

Kevin Lawrence  01:29

Awesome. Mine is resilience also, from my book, Your Oxygen Mask First, and just how important it is. And as I’m coming into vacation time, your resilience is rebuilding your energy. And I look at resilience to the windows of body, mind and spirit. And when we’re going real hard, it can affect and wear all of those down. And as we’re planning vacation and thinking about the cool places we’ll go and experience and what we’ll do. Even the planning and thinking about the vacation is building my resilience and kind of fueling my spirit. So resilient job scorecards Are you want job scorecards to add resilient people to your team, however, you want to spin those two together? We don’t care. But they do go together. Resilience is critical to success. So speaking of success, the topic today, we’re talking about actually helping people to become more successful. Yeah, we’re talking about what does it take to develop your middle managers that next level leaders in your organization who generally get neglected, and it’s not because we don’t care about them, it’s that they’re very much in managing a lot of the production of the business. They’re leading all the people who are on the front lines and getting stuff done, so that we’re successful, delivering stuff to our customers, improving our systems, working really, really hard. And for whatever reason, in most companies, there becomes a gap of the middle managers capabilities to pop up to the next level. And whether you call that a directive, or a VP, or an executive, whatever the heck you call it, to grow enough of them to get to the next level. So the distinction we think about is building a team of middle managers, which implies internal growth and development and hiring externally, versus growing internally, those middle managers home grown talent, as people like to talk about it. And generally, in the companies that we work with, that are growing so quickly. It’s hard to get enough homegrown talent won because of the speed of growth and sheer numbers, but too, because we just don’t put enough energy into developing them.

Brad Giles  03:46

So this is such an important topic that teams that I work with anyone who’s listening would be kind of nodding their head, because so many times I’ve said in leadership teams, what you know, what you can’t see, what you don’t know is, as we continue to grow, were like stretching a rubber band between us and the mid managers in the organization. And the job that you don’t know that you can’t see is that we have to grow those people. We have to get them capable. You may recall Kev, the phrase, the genius with 1000 helpers, yep. That’s often how entrepreneurs start. And we can actually end up with a group of geniuses in the leadership team with 1000 helpers. So the difference in capability unless we work right between the leaders, and the mid managers can be massive. And it can actually be a huge impediment to growth.

Kevin Lawrence  04:45

It can and normally naturally, it will continue to grow because the CEOs are often out there learning like crazy. There’ll be members of, you know, YPO or Vistage or TAC, or another CEO forum group, there’ll be all They’re learning incredibly, and a lot of that spills and trickles on to the executives. The executives also get to work with the high level consultants and experts that the CEO brings in to help them as they move forward. So the CEOs, and the executives are often surrounded with lots of amazing experts and advisors and people like us that are in there helping, but that often doesn’t involve the next level. And they kind of just, they’re just, they’re left to get the work done. So we’re going to dig into that. And, and there was basically because of this, people need to end up hiring many people into those middle manager roles to fill gaps, and sometimes you need to, but generally, people end up needing to hire more than would be ideal in their mind. Secondly, there’s many people in that group that have a lot of potential, but they don’t ever find it, they get stagnant. They don’t find ways to get to that next level, because they’re not those doors aren’t being opened for them, or the development opportunities aren’t there from them. And in the end, you know, the reality is, most businesses aren’t of the size, where they have the full blown Leadership Development Program. At some point, you know, everyone ends up building their own internal universities, and builds the competency to grow leaders to grow those middle managers, or even frontline people to middle managers, middle managers, to, you know, directors and directors to executives. People get ready, you gotta be well over 1000 employees to get there. So what we’re talking about is what do you do now, when you’re busy just getting the work done? Those middle managers aren’t getting developed, you don’t have the systems, you don’t have the competence of the expertise. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

Brad Giles  06:44

The problem with that is that as you continue to grow, and as this, this problem becomes more prevalent, people then begin to think I need to hire someone who has the experience, who’s done this before, to step in, to kind of bridge that gap. And that’s, you know, that’s not necessarily the ideal, you know, our job is to cultivate our people to be able to enable the growth that we’re experiencing.

Kevin Lawrence  07:16

And a slightly different perspective, Brad, I think there is an ideal somewhere in there. Like, we need outside people, for sure. The key is, if all of your new hires in the middle of management, if 90% of them are from the outside, that’s probably not the right amount, right? It should be a reason whether it’s 50% internal grown talent, or 60%, or 40%. I don’t know the number. But we want some we always want some outside people with Been there done that experience that come and help us. We just don’t want it to be the only answer we have to add to those middle managers. That’s that’s the key.

Brad Giles  07:58

There are a few episodes to reference for those who are listening that are in a similar topic, Episode 55 of the growth whispers podcast, building a people magnet machine, Episode 67. Why should people want to work for your company? Episode 46, seven people questions. So they’re the relevant episodes to the subject that we’re talking about today.

Kevin Lawrence  08:22

Awesome. And you can also in Kevin’s book, your oxygen mask first, you can look at the chapter called Making yourself useless. You can also look at the chapter stop being chief problem solver that gets those are pieces that add on to the soul. All right, so the main thing we got, we’ve got, you know, the outline that was your brainstorming several, there’s probably like seven points to making this work. And the first thing as almost as it is with everything, what’s your goal? Like? What do you want? Now, first of all, do you want 100% or 90% A players in your leadership roles in your company? I sure hope you do it. Unless you’re a competitor to one of my clients. And if you’re a competitor to one of my clients, you should probably just stop listening to this podcast right now. If you compete with one of the great companies working because we don’t necessarily need you to know these kinds of things. But for the people that we work with, Hey, listen in. So do you want 90% A players or 100% A players? Do you what’s the percent of internal promotions that you want or the internally cultivated talent? What percentage do you want that to be? You know, that’s that everyone’s is different. But realistically what does you’d like to see? And so starting with that, you know, there are companies that only promote from within like McDonald’s, and I heard this recent few years ago, it may or may not still be true, but at one point, the only way to become a store manager is to work start in the front and every single store manager grew through the system. That because that is their strategy. frontline people move up, move up, move up. So what is your goal?

Brad Giles  10:06

The only point that I’d pick up on with what you said there is, that it’s not just the leaders, it’s the leadership team, the mid managers, as you think about the traditional pyramid shaped org chart, you want to get a players in all of the key positions as much as possible. And so that means that you’ve got to have all of those people growing. So imagine that, that you’re the CEO, looking at that pyramid of an org chart. And you’ve got a fishing rod to every single individual who is who’s got the title of supervisor or manager or leader, you want to be growing all of those people. So you’re just paying a little bit of attention to make sure that all of those people are growing all the time.

Kevin Lawrence  10:50

What does the fishing rod do?

Brad Giles  10:54

Well, what it means is that you are drawing them in you!

Kevin Lawrence  10:59

Oh, you’re like reeling them in? Yes, I got it. Okay. Got it totally makes sense.

Brad Giles  11:03

You bring them higher up as the company.

Kevin Lawrence  11:05

So what’s your goal? What do you want out of it? And then you also have, you know, what do you want in terms of programs? Or management systems? Do you want to have like, what do you want to achieve here? Second, who is accountable, and this is a big debate. You know, truly, the development of the middle of your direct reports is you as a manager or leader, if that’s part of your job. And it’s hrs job to help you or assist you in this and provide the resources tools. And sometimes the accountability, it’s not hrs job to grow the people, it’s HR job to put the resources there and make sure that managers step out of their busy work to do a bunch of this. So it’s a little bit of both when, when it gets to be when you get into programs, like leadership development programs, like our team does a lot of them for different companies, because they’re not big enough to build their own just yet. But when it gets to having leadership development programs, that’s often driven by HR but has quite a bit of executive involvement. Because it’s, it’s meant for the benefit of the business and the executive wants to be, you know, have their fingerprints on it to make sure we’re developing people in a way that they believe in.

Brad Giles  12:31

I think you’ve outlined that really well, it makes me think about our good friend, Liz Wiseman, and her book multipliers. The, you know, the great leaders that she calls multipliers, they multiply the capability of the people who report to them, yes. And in the absence of that, then if we’re only if HR is accountable for it, then they’ll just get the processes and systems but there’s absolutely a role for the leader to grow the will who report to them?

Kevin Lawrence  13:03

Yep, it’s an account, some companies measure it, what percentage of people have you promoted again, being able to promote promoting of leaders indication that you’re good at developing leaders. And then so the next three years, you gotta have a budget and a plan? Like, if you don’t have a budget and a plan for this? It’s not gonna happen, right? And there’s lots of different ways to do it. But how are you going to allocate and this is, in many ways to develop leaders, it’s like a farmer, planting grapes today, that will be ready for wine production in a few years. It takes time. It’s not instant, it’s not planted today, get it tomorrow. So you have to be investing in the medium term to get benefits over this, again, just like a farmer have talent, and gotta have a budget. And you gotta have a plan of, of what you’re going to do.

Brad Giles  14:01

I remember I read a study of some of the most successful CEOs. And one of the things that they had in common is in their mid to late 20s. Someone, one of their leaders bet on them big. So for example, they were sent to run a remote office, or they were given a high level of responsibility. That kind of might seem might have seemed a bit out of proportion at the time, but someone paid on them big and then that got them to grow a lot faster than they otherwise should have.

Kevin Lawrence  14:36

Yes. They did what I call throwing him in the pool, stepping on their head to teach them how to swim. That’s not a very nice image.

Brad Giles  14:47

It’s a Canadian thing.

Kevin Lawrence  14:48

It’s a Canadian thing. We don’t do it. No, it’s horrible. But the point of it is, is that you put them in a crazy situation that they have no right being in And then you let them figure it out. Yeah. Because you believe in them, they have your belief and they have your support, but they gotta fight like hell. And it helps them to be able to thrive, or they don’t make it. But generally people get those opportunities, someone really pushes them very, very hard.

Brad Giles  15:18

So you gotta have a plan, a budget. So, the next one is, what’s the program?

Kevin Lawrence  15:23

Yeah. And so I will say, like, our team does a lot of leadership development programs for companies a lot, because they don’t have the time. And we’re talking, there’s the education, with giving them projects and challenges, coming up with ideas to improve things in the business through to 360s. And sometimes even coaching if they need it. It takes an incredible amount of energy to build these programs, generally, about 10 hours of prep for every single hour of delivery, which is why most companies don’t do it. And it’s hard to do it well, like it’s a serious, serious skill. So you gotta decide, are we going to make that? Or are we going to? Do we have enough economies of scale that we can make it ourselves and do it? Or the skills? Or? Or do we buy it? And then if you do, do you need different programs for different levels, like one company we work with, we’ve got three different programs that we run for different levels of the organization based on different needs, and each of those needs someone to facilitate it and the skills to do it. The main thing is all your generally to grow these leaders is that you’re giving them some new thoughts. And then you’re putting into my Laborde Laborie, Atari type setting to get them to work with these new thoughts and try new skills and work on new skills. Then they go away, they come back and report how they did. I guess it’s not rocket science, it just takes time and energy and someone to lead it and prioritize other thing that we go ahead.

Brad Giles  16:56

I remember I was, I went to Las Vegas to the Zappos headquarters, and I went on that tour, they’ve got a library, that each person is able to get a whole collection of the selected books. And people can go in there, and they can choose the books that are appropriate that they decide within manager that they’re going to work for.

Kevin Lawrence  17:22

Yeah, so the idea of it is, is coming up with a program that actually grows leaders, there’s tons of research and examples out there of things that work. Generally, they need to learn more, and then they need opportunities to ingrain it inside them. The root of adult learning is discussion and debate in small groups, that’s what gets it. You know, it’s not the content, it’s a discussion, the debate and then looking for how they can then go apply it in their world. So number five, is the forum look, where do you do it? You know, some people will have monthly trainings for programs or BI monthly. Some people do it through projects, sometimes it’s coaching, sometimes it’s new challenges. But what is the form and from what we’ve seen, the ideal forum is a regular, regular, whatever regular is for you, environment where there’s learning, discussion, and then accountability to apply it. And then next time you report back, you know, one of our clients Oshana in India, they did this with their middle managers for years, they would bring them in every month now, not when there was a quarterly. So they would end up I think, eight or nine times a year, the whole middleman and they were coming in from around the country. And they spent a day doing this. So there was formal education, where it was a book they would read or an article, they would read, discuss debate, talk about how to decide they will be making presentations to get decisions made in their organization for things that they were doing. There’ll be breakout groups to work on problems, like it was a full day event. And the idea of it is the executives were involved and working with them. Part of it was DNA transfer up, part of it was sort of down part of was DNA transfer up. But they were in there working with the executives for a day a quarter with very conscious engineered learning experiences as part of it. That’s a big way of doing it. Other people would do a monthly training and development program. Some other people send people away to other specific industry specific development programs.

Brad Giles  19:29

If you’re gonna make your mid level managers, if you’re gonna make your mid management team more effective and able to take on more projects, and help to scale and compound the growth of the business. Well, how different will they be in one year from now? compared to today? That’s the plan that we spoke about before. And then what is the things that you’ve got to do every week or month or quarter to achieve that growth of that those mid managers in a year? That’s a different way to think about it, right.

Kevin Lawrence  20:01

And the key is you just can’t have them attend meetings and listen and learn, they’ve got to be participating and doing and experimenting, that’s, you know, listening to updates from other departments isn’t going to get them there. You know, they’ve got to be involved. Number six, who are the faculty that deliver the teachers and the coaches, and, you know, the best is a blend between the executives and experts. Because the executives know a lot of stuff. And they, they’re the best at their roles. Theoretically, they should be doing a lot of the teaching and training in this, but someone else normally used to manage it. So they can just be a guest speaker and they can be quickly involved not taking the 10 hours for every hour of delivery. And the other piece for a lot of our companies we work with, and we’re big on bringing Lear learning to the company, they use this development as part of this development is cascading the major learnings that the CEO and executive had with the rest of the business so so we will be reading books by Collins and multipliers by Liz, you talked about maybe it’s blue ocean strategy. Maybe it’s influenced by Celestine, maybe it’s, you know, made to thrive your book, Brad or chapters from my book, your oxygen mask first or skill, what doesn’t, you know, One Minute Manager is one of the ultimate management books, that’s outstanding point, if it is, if the executive are learning and operating the business based on principles, cascading those things down, so future, people on the leadership or executive team are familiar with them. The key is that there needs to be people that do this, and executives should be involved in a way that is respectful of the time. So should the CEO, you know, when I was involved in scaling up, one of the CEOs I interviewed, he taught 10 books a year to the whole company, whole company that was an every year to be like a conveyor belt to books with drop off, and he’d bring on to ones repeat eight, for the previous year, and then to fresh ones. But he took it upon his self. To do that teaching another company I interviewed Ireland, there, executive team spent time learning every single week in the boardroom, they would spend a couple hours a week learning. And even in our firm, we have at least a 20 minute session in our weekly meeting that’s dedicated to learning every single week. So those are extreme examples. But there is a moderate, there’s a moderate example that would suit your organization.

Brad Giles  22:30

If you speak to younger executives, or your younger leaders, let’s say in their 20s or early 30s, and they’re thinking about moving jobs, one of the first things that they talk about is what am I going to learn? Like, it is a great opportunity, because I’m going to learn so much. And they’re highly tuned into that. So in that environment you just described, if that’s taken away, because they leave, they’re not going to be learning as much therefore, it’s kind of part of that. That second order engagement, I guess.

Kevin Lawrence  23:01

Yeah. And it’s one of the things of retention opportunities to learn and grow. And if you can provide it, they don’t need to go somewhere else to get it. Yeah. Finally, who attends these things? I mean, ideally, everyone, right? Ideally, everyone, but when you’re doing different leadership development, there will be some people that are called high potentials. Now, don’t go label them in the company. That’s dangerous, because then they get treated like a special club, and it often will blow up and piss off everybody else. That’s not in it. But if you’re doing your talent reviews regularly with a team, you’re going to know the people that have a lot of potential, you definitely want them in it. Yeah, but maybe there’s the people that are just keen, or maybe people who want to be a part of it, invest in them as well, if they’re gonna, as someone said, Well, what if I invest all this money in growing my people and they leave? And the other person said, Well, what if they stay? Yeah. Yeah, it’s worse if they stay. I’d rather develop them and have them on to do great things and move on to great things, then keep them mediocre in the company the whole time.

Brad Giles  24:07

It’s, it’s just the attitude to have like, we need to grow our people. It’s part of it, because it’s going to be hard to succeed if we don’t grow our people.

Kevin Lawrence  24:19

So let’s review. So number one, what’s your goal? What do you want to achieve with the development of your people? What percentage of your people do you want to be a players? And what percentage do you want to be internally grown talent? Who owns it? Well, we know what’s between HR and a manager. But the HR is ideally putting in the systems and structures to help the managers to execute it. Need a plan and a budget. And you got to figure out the program where we going to make it? Are we going to buy it we’re going to rent it and who we doing it for what does it look like? And then where do we do it? What’s the Forum is a part of a regular rhythm? Is that a special program? How do we bring it to life? Brad, you want to cover the final couple there? Sure.

Brad Giles  25:00

So who were the faculty, ideally a mix of executives, peer coaches or buddies? And then external thought leaders, Jim Collins, Liz Wiseman, a couple of that we’ve spoken about Roger Ailes is also a great choice. Yeah, well, no, seriously, you can use this podcast, we’ve got so many top Fisher’s podcast that you can use and get people to listen to. And then finally, who attends? Who were the, I’ll say, high potentials. Or who were the people that we want to grow? Who could grow within the business? Who could continue to grow in the business as we scale and add great value?

Kevin Lawrence  25:39

Who would provide a good return on investment for this growth? Yeah. So that’s been our discussion around developing internal talent and growing that next level of leader we call mid managers. Thanks for listening. This has been the Growth Whisperers Podcast. I’m Kevin Lawrence here with Brad Giles down in Perth, Australia. Don’t forget to hit that subscribe button. If you haven’t yet. For the YouTube versions, search the growth whispers at YouTube, you’ll find us and Brad and I both have newsletters. We put a lot of time and energy into share with our people because we believe in education is the road to a lot of greatness. Brad is evolution. partners.com.au and Kevin, you can find that Lawrence and co.com. Have a great week. Keep thinking about investing in yourself and those critical people around you and throughout your whole organization.