Leading From the Middle, 3Rs of Success

is_150828_middle_management_tug_o_war_800x600If you are a Middle Manager like me, you know you have the hardest job in the world.  If you are going to be successful in this role I have learned there are three traits you will have to acquire:

Be Resourceful:  Since you are not at the top of your organization you cannot prioritize your initiatives.  This often means you will have to be creative and find other revenue streams, other cost savings, and creative options to make your projects happen.

Be Relational:  Many times you will not have all the resources you will need to make things happen, so you will have to rely upon relationships you have created and good will you have established with others in your organization.  This means you will have to give more than you take.  Genuine servanthood will be key to achieve things when you lead from the middle.

Be Resilient:  Despite your best efforts, sometimes your priorities will not rise to the top for the organization, or worse yet they do and you fail to make the priority successful.  It will happen if you lead from the middle long enough.  When it does you will have to brush it off and start looking for the next way you can have impact.  You cannot lead from the middle while looking backwards.


Jack Welch’s ABC’s. Love ‘Em or Leave Em? Tell us what you think?

A few years ago, my company adopted the philosophy espoused by Jack Welch that team members should be identified as “A, B, or C” players annually.  Although we never fully engaged that concept due to leadership changes, I would like to know whether you use this tool and what you believe has resulted from Mr. Welch’s approach.

The theory is that on any team approximately 20% of the workers are “A players.”  These are the superstars; the linchpins of the organization that others rely upon to carry the organization forward.  These team members should be actively re-recruited annually by leadership, because losing them would be a major setback.

The next group is the “B players.”  Welch says that this group comprises about 70% of any organization.  These team members do the majority of the work in a company.  They are competent and valuable.  They, too, need to be re-recruited, but some of these will not want to be “B players.”  Those B’s need to understand what they could do to become, or be seen as “A players.”

Obviously, that leaves the “C players.”  Welch says these are the 10% of the workforce that take up 70% of your time and energy.  They need to be managed up to competency, or managed out of the organization.  They may even be quite competent, but their attitude could be a poisonous cancer undermining, authority and morale.  The rest of the workforce is dying for leaders to deal with these players!

The main thing that has bothered me about this approach is the belief that the 20-70-10 always applies.  I am not willing to accept that no matter how good we get at hiring, training, and retaining, we cannot do better than 20% “A players,” and 10% “C players.”  Having said that, thinking back over my career, I cannot honestly argue with those percentages.  Nevertheless, can we insist each leader identify 10% of the workforce as C-players as Welch demanded?

Regardless of the numbers, I think the value of this approach is clear communication to team members about where they stand with their leader and with the organization.  There is value to that, no matter whether you are an “A”, “B”, or “C”.  It also forces meek managers to have those difficult conversations with C’s, and also B’s that think their A’s.  It lets the A’s, and also the B’s that have no A level aspirations, know the organization will fight for them because they are valued and appreciated.

So why not move forward with this concept?

When this approach is implemented, the culture can turn into a pressure cooker.  One can feel as though he is constantly under the gun, being judged and held accountable.  If not implemented consistently across the organization, it can come across as arbitrary and capricious.  It can even result in gamesmanship and political maneuvering to avoid being identified as a C.

If leadership does not commit to this in earnest, and follow through for a number of years, it can do more harm than good.  As a “flavor of the month” program, this can be the biggest disaster, because it calls people out of the shadows and puts them in the spotlight; warts and all.  If there is no follow through on what has been exposed, leadership will lose the confidence of the team.

So, to those of you have used this philosophy, what do you say?  Is it valuable?  Have the results been good or bad?  Has it been sustainable?  Would you do it all over again if you could turn back time?  Let us know.

Break Through the Barricades

imagesYesterday was a tough day.  It is budget season, and my meeting with leadership to discuss my capital priorities resulted in a total flip of my original rankings.  There is sound reasoning behind the decision, but it killed my main strategic priority for the next fiscal year and I was truly disappointed.

This morning, I was driving to work; still feeling defeated; replaying the discussion in my head; thinking about how I could have presented things in a more compelling manner; remembering getting side-tracked.  In short I was wishing for a do over!  I actually remember thinking to myself, “I guess I just need to let it go, and do what I can with what I have next year, and leave it at that.”  Just as I was thinking that thought, I arrived at our employee parking garage.

I pulled into the two lane entrance and there were 2 cars in each lane in front of me.  No movement.  Two cars pull in behind me.  Still nothing.  Within 60 seconds there were 12 cars lined up out into the road blocking traffic both ways.  The first two cars were just sitting there, nobody was doing anything.

So, I got out of my car, and briskly walked to the front of the line.  I swiped my badge for both drivers and the barricades lifted, allowing the first two cars to enter the garage, and the next two to pull up behind them.  I hurried to my car, and soon was in the garage myself.

As I drove to my usual parking place it occurred to me… That is my job as a leader.  I remove barricades that allow others to accomplish their work.  My failure to secure capital for next year’s strategic priority was one of those barriers.  There is work to be done. Since that work is healthcare, if I let the barricade stop us lives will be adversely effected.  I determined not to give up on the priority, but find a way to remove the barricade.

The rest of my morning I called and/or met with various leaders on how to accomplish the strategy without capital funding.  By mid morning, after some great input by people smarter than me, we had a working hypothesis that might just enable us to get where we want to go!  Further analysis is required, and approval is far from certain, but if that does not work we will go back to the drawing board and find another way.

I have done everything in healthcare from cleaning grease traps in dietary to gold shovel ground-breaking ceremonies as a Hospital CEO.  In my opinion, middle management is by far the hardest role.  You cannot set the priorities, yet all the people you lead expect you to provide them with the tools they need to do their jobs.  When that gets tough, you cannot (or at least should not) blame “Administration.”  In fact, to them, you ARE Administration!

To all of you serving in the middle, regardless of industry, thanks for the work you do. People’s jobs depend on you doing them well.  Healthcare middle managers, as you know, not only jobs, but lives depend on you!  Be proud of your role.  If you succeed in the middle, you can succeed at the top!