Think tank DEA recently carried out a study showing that Danish middle managers spend more than half their time on daily operations (54%).
Unfortunately, this means that middle managers spend more time handling acute and unexpected issues and daily routines than they do on their main responsibility – namely managing employees. And in my experience, reality is even worse than the figures indicate.
As Director of Leadership Development at DI, I am in dialogue with middle managers on a daily basis, and it is apparent that they have a hard time finding time for leadership and, not least, development. This is a serious problem for the individual companies and for competitiveness in Denmark.
The job of middle manager has never been easy. But I would claim that middle management is more complex today than it once was. As a middle manager, you are constantly under pressure from two sides – a top that wants to see results and a bottom that wants close contact, feedback and development opportunities.
Leadership takes time, and managing relations and change requires focus. At a time of constant change, and where equally constant changes of gear are required in order to keep up, it is deeply problematic that we lose valuable time for real management by focusing too narrowly on day-to-day operations.
DEA’s study makes it clear that the neglect of leadership and development responsibilities is frustrating for middle managers. Over-focus on operations breeds dissatisfaction. Personal frustration can be difficult for many middle managers, and it can have serious consequences for the individual. But it can also have just as serious consequences for companies. If we neglect HR activities in favour of operations, Danish companies will lose their competitive advantage. Denmark’s most important resource is innovative people, and it will be costly if we do not earmark resources – including time – for the development of employees and preparing for the future.
If we are to prevent middle management from drowning in operations in the future, it will require a greater scope for leadership and a new mindset in which leadership is the primary task of middle managers.
This requires a change in the way we assess middle managers today.
Instead of assessing managers based on results, we must set clear goals for leadership skills and approaches in middle management. Senior management has a big responsibility to create a culture focused on good leadership, innovation and employee development that permeates the entire organisation – not least middle management.
We cannot afford to lose our position as innovative front-runners in Denmark. I am confident that the companies who dare to create a greater scope for leadership and development will be the ones who win the future.