Why it’s so hard to sell to the middle manager

Here are some cluesPaul Osterman has a new book out called “The Truth About Middle Managers: Who They Are, How They Work, Why They Matter”. The book offers some interesting insights into a frequently under-loved, under-studied and under-appreciated group of business people.

Here are some clues

Paul Osterman has a new book out called “The Truth About Middle Managers: Who They Are, How They Work, Why They Matter”. The book offers some interesting insights into a frequently under-loved, under-studied and under-appreciated group of business people.

So, given all of the downsizing of mid-management, the offshoring of jobs, the transfer of mid-management pay to CEOs, etc. that has occurred these last 2-3 decades, you’d expect to find mid-managers to be:

- resentful - overworked - not very committed to their employer or business strategy - disengaged - all of the above

Well, I sure would and I see/meet with enough of them every year to know that these employees are experiencing a lot of pain and too little reward.

If your firm is selling services, software or hardware to these people, ask yourself:

“Why should they buy this? Really, why should they? If they don’t care about their employer, why should they care about my product/service? If this mid-manager is not fully committed to the success of his firm, won’t he just play safe and pass on anything with even a hint of risk associated with it?”

I bet more than one reader has met the indifference of a mid-manager who no longer gives a hoot about things. Your inspiration for this model slacker is none other than Wally the Engineer in the comic strip Dilbert.

It really is hard to sell something to someone who just doesn’t care. They know they’re a disposable commodity to their overpaid CEO. They quit being an asset to the company long ago. They now have a nervous laugh when they recall their more naïve days as a young worker. That was when they actually felt like their actions were making a difference and that someone would notice their effort and reward them accordingly.

I’m with Osterman on this issue. Mid-management gets a raw deal and firms that misuse them do so at their own peril.

This isn’t an issue that can be solved with some of HR software feature du jour. I’ve seen products that issue automated atta-boys to workers for doing something like showing up for work. That’s not just insulting, it’s asinine. Mid-managers need to be treated first like real people who are real assets (not costs) to the company. When I have a complicated issue that I need a company to address, I want a really competent business person working with me on that matter. I want them to care about me and be passionate about their firm and their product/service.

Mid-managers need to be recognized for their contributions and rewarded for them as well. When top managers keep their company cars and fly corporate jets while mid-managers can’t get pay increases and must share hotels and rental cars with colleagues to save budget monies, it says a lot about how the firm views its mid-managers. When a client of mine was going through some painful cutbacks, their top executives continued to park their exotic company cars in front of the building. Every employee knew who those cars belonged to and top management was clueless as to the effect it was having on worker morale in a time of layoffs and budget cutbacks. I suggested the top execs return those cars to their leasing firms or, at minimum, let the better employees have a chance at parking in those primo spots. They chose the latter option.

Successful companies don’t just happen because of a few top executives. It takes everyone from the top executive to the most junior new hire to make it prosper. Have you really thought about your mid-managers lately?