27 September 2023

Stalled gifts: Why middle managers neglect their career progression

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Jane McNeill* says too many middle managers feel they are on a treadmill rather than a path to a desirable career, which means it’s time to take action.

Multiple studies have been conducted on the happiness of middle managers, including one by Harvard Business Review of over 320,000 employees at various levels across a variety of organisations.

The study found that middle managers were the least happy group of all respondents because they felt they were “on a treadmill rather than a path to a desirable career.”

Does this resonate with you?

If so, it’s time to take action.

Continued learning benefits you, and everyone around you

Career progression and continued learning go hand in hand.

Teaching yourself something new won’t just bring you one step closer to your next promotion; it will also reignite that passion you felt when you first started out in your role.

This enthusiasm will not only motivate you to drive your own career forward, but will filter down to your team and inspire them to grow their skills and expertise.

The more you grow your industry knowledge and stay up-to-date, the better placed you are to suggest innovative ideas to senior stakeholders and make an impact within the organisation.

So, how can you make your middle management career progression a reality?

Refocus and re-evaluate your goals

No doubt you have plenty of experience helping your team to pinpoint areas for improvement and plot out their goals.

Now it’s time to give your own career just as much attention.

Think back to that moment between being promoted and becoming so tied up in management duties.

What did you envisage the next few stages of your career to look like?

And has this ambition changed, now that you have a better understanding of where the organisation is headed and what their vision is?

Put together some objectives which align to this vision and what you want next from your career.

Make these objectives SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-scaled) and regularly check your progress against your goals.

What might realistically get in the way of you putting your career first?

It’s one thing to acknowledge the need to focus on your progression, but it’s another to realistically make time for it in a busy schedule.

However, you need to make an ongoing commitment to your development, otherwise you will only end up back in the same stagnant situation that you’re in now.

This means addressing the potential barriers to your upskilling, which may include:

  1. Your mentality

Be honest with yourself.

How do you view the tasks which form part of your progression plan?

Do you see them as supplementary to your current role and something you will do when you have time?

If so, this may be your first barrier.

Upskilling needs to be treated as a core part of your role as a manager and woven into your current workflow.

Otherwise, you’ll put it off when your workload is piling up.

Ultimately, you need to think of upskilling as an investment of your time in your future, rather than a cost.

  1. Your boss

You may now see your career progression as a priority, but you also need the buy-in from your boss if you want to make your plans a reality.

Sit down with your boss and outline how you want to grow your skills, and the ways in which they can support you.

For example, assistance finding a mentor or time to attend a webinar or conference.

You may also request the organisation’s financial support for a professional course or training.

When having this conversation, make the link between your upskilling and the resulting benefits to the organisation and your team clear.

Having been in your position before, your boss may be able to recommend other means of upskilling that you hadn’t thought of, as well as tips for making time to upskill yourself when snowed under with middle management tasks.

  1. Your hectic schedule

I understand how busy you can get as a middle manager, but there are plenty of flexible self-learning options available that can work around you.

You can usually access these on-demand on your devices.

For instance, you could download a podcast to your phone to listen to on your commute, or you could watch a TEDtalk on your lunch break.

I would also advise upskilling yourself in ways that involve other people — because this way you can’t cancel and let them down.

If you haven’t already, initiate regular catch-ups with your boss where you check in on your progression plan.

There’s also a lot to be said for meeting up regularly with a career mentor.

This can be someone you look up to, can trust, and can rely on to give you confidential, neutral and useful career advice.

You should also book yourself into any organisation-funded training, events and talks.

  1. Your delegation skills

Lastly, many middle managers also find themselves holding on to tasks which could be delegated to others.

Similarly, many feel the need to attend meetings and conference calls which could be attended by somebody in their team on their behalf.

Perhaps it’s time to start handing more over to your existing team.

Resist the urge to micromanage.

Instead, be as clear as you can with your expectations, let them do their best, and provide feedback on improvements to be made for next time.

Your career progression shouldn’t ever take a back-seat, no matter how many people you manage or how busy you are.

The people around you need you to be motivated, satisfied and the best you can possibly be at your job.

You must make sure you are constantly learning, growing, and moving towards something bigger.

This can’t be a one-off activity; instead consider it your new habit of a lifetime.

So, take a moment to realise your end game, realign your focus, and in no time, you will feel like your progression plan is back on track.

* Jane McNeill is Managing Director for recruitment company Hays NSW & WA.

This article first appeared at www.hays.com.au.

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