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Be mindful of your managers, they are the glue in the middle of your organisation

Jon Dilling looks at trends and future predictions for the changing role of middle managers. Those at delivery level have been key to stepping up to strategy and ensuring that vital progress in the COVID-19 fightback has been made. Here’s the changes he’s seen within organisations.   

Working in Penna’s Sourcing business I assist our clients with non-executive management and specialist recruitment, and I contributed to an article last August discussing our findings on the role of middle managers.  

I reflected on how the perception and importance of a middle manager in local government had changed over time, predominantly aligned with how the sector has undergone a period of transformation, scaled back and changed the way it’s been delivering key services over recent years.

But a lot has changed since then!

With the COVID-19 emergency now temporarily shifting key services delivery, there is a question mark around how our public sector will look moving forward. One thing is for sure; middle managers will play an even more important role than ever.

Here’s what I’ve seen in terms of trends, tactics and talent at manager level.

  1. Middle managers have been key to delivery

I’ve been hearing how new delivery functions have been set up and capacity has had to increase significantly in some areas almost overnight; addressing resident shielding, death registrations and delivering food parcels as just a few common examples, all led by managers who would ordinarily be doing a very different role. A Head of Planning in my network has set up and led on the highly emotional work around ensuring that anyone taken by COVID-19 has a dignified passing and is respectfully laid to rest. We could never have imagined our public sector managers undertaking such grave work six months ago, but they have stepped up to the challenge.

But it’s becoming painfully clear that things won’t ever quite be the same. As one local government chief executive mentioned, ‘the changes in working practices seen across councils in recent weeks in response to the pandemic would result in a lasting “paradigm shift” and a “new normal”.

In my view, the role of middle managers will not return to normal when lockdown eases. We’ll be seeing more agility, more flexibility across different specialisms and roles from individuals. Cross-working in Councils will be benefited by the experience managers have gained during this difficult time.

  1. Life goes on, and so do essential services

Importantly through all of this and also in the future, the sector will need to ensure continuity of essential public services – such as highways and waste infrastructures, immunisations, schools, social care and the list goes on.

Finance will become more important than ever, ensuring councils’ funds are correctly allocated, maintained and recovered, generating much needed revenue lost and spent during the emergency.

What the impact on social care will look like is anyone’s guess but again rest assured, it won’t be any easier and demands will be even greater, especially in adult care.

  1. Managers have opened the door to transformation

Business as usual has been blown out the door. Through sheer necessity, managers have been reforming processes, shifting structures and delivering differently.

So, will we see even further transformation in the coming year?

I’ve also recently read a really interesting article suggesting that the highlighted role of local government in the media through the emergency has resulted in residents better understanding what their local council actually does and provides, and so many more areas of delivery may well come under more scrutiny from the general public moving forward.

  1. Skillsets have shifted

All the crucial areas of service delivery and possible further transformation will require managers who will not only have the skill sets that have always been required, but undoubtedly will need to have the capacity, creativity to do things differently, in a different landscape, and with more resilience than has ever been needed. Calibre will be even more important than ever, and real innovators will be needed at middle management levels as much as at more senior director levels.

Middle managers are, and will be moving forward, on the front line more than ever, being pushed by the demands of their senior management team and members.

For me, it’s going to be interesting to see the future middle manager . The part they play may evolve again and their importance will increase further.

A personal note from me

I wanted to finish on a personal note. I’ve been working with local government for almost 20 years and have always been proud to help a sector that really does make a difference. I can honestly say that I have never been prouder to work for a company who directly supports organisations who are currently making such a huge difference through this emergency.

While Penna is so well-known for the recruitment it conducts at executive levels, I’m made prouder still by the fact that the area of the business I work in supports the recruitment of the important managers I’ve been talking about. Individuals who are right on the front line managing difficult situations. My hat goes off to every single one of them!

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