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The middle manager’s dilemma

Middle managers (such as superintendents) are under continuous pressure to deliver to operational and corporate expectations.

More than one has confided, “The guys think I am always in a bad mood, but what can I do… They should be taking the initiative but leave it up to me. I have to run around all the time trying to keep the balls in the air. My guys seem not to be mature enough to handle more responsibilities...” Employee engagement surveys in mining consistently show frontline and top management score well, while middle management drags along at the bottom. Is it any wonder that these managers often resist when new initiatives are launched?

In principle, delegation of responsibility is the solution.

However, middle management reluctance to delegate is often found in environments where employees consider cooperation across and within departments unrewarding.

Yves Morieux of Boston Consulting has an interesting perspective on cooperation “KPIs at the operational level are set as if the parts of the business operate in isolation and can be measured separately.” “This pushes a drive for clarity and accountability and triggers a counterproductive multiplication of interfaces, middle offices and coordinators that do not only mobilise people and resources but add obstacles.”

“This is killing productivity and making people suffer at work. People spend their time in meetings, writing reports they have to do, undo and redo. So we need employees to cooperate, to trust their coworkers and managers. It is to take a risk because you sacrifice the ultimate protection granted by objectively measurable individual performance. It is to make a super difference in the performance of others with whom we are compared. It takes being stupid to cooperate, then. And people are not stupid; they don’t cooperate.”

Here are some of the rules from Yves Moorieux’s “Smart Rules- 6 ways to get people to do things without you” for enabling delegation and bottom-up coordination.

The top 5 rules:

Rule 1: Improve Understanding of What Coworkers Do

Rule 2: Reinforce the People Who Are Integrators

Rule 3: Expand the Amount of Power Available

Rule 4: Increase the Need for Reciprocity

Rule 5: Put the Blame on the Uncooperative

We have found that these rules are a good starting place for transformative mining interventions. The difficulty is creating an environment where these rules can quickly be introduced, function well and are self-reinforcing. In later posts, we will discuss the Flow Room as one method of doing this.

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