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How companies can help midlevel managers navigate agile transformations

April 25, 2019
Borderless Leadership

Agile organization models have less hierarchy and fewer conventional managers. Here’s how executives making the move to agile can keep their valuable former managers engaged and motivated.

Transforming companies to increase their agility so that they can quickly reorient themselves toward valuable opportunities helps them achieve superior performance.1 An agile transformation involves restructuring a company’s workforce as a relatively flat network of cross-functional, flexible teams empowered to direct their own activities and make day-to-day decisions. As a result, most of the conventional manager’s responsibilities—such as planning projects, assigning tasks, documenting progress, and evaluating employees—get absorbed by other roles. When a company’s agile transformation is complete, it will have more opportunities for individual contributors and leaders, but few if any positions for managers.

Helping midlevel managers make the transition to agile can take a lot of effort, but the payoff is worthwhile.

That shift can put considerable pressure on senior executives. Understandably, longtime midlevel managers can become apprehensive once they recognize that their main duties will be redistributed and their job titles erased from the organizational chart. Many will have legitimate questions about what will become of them as the agile transformation progresses. Where will they fit into the new organization? What will they spend their time doing? How will their pay and opportunities for advancement change? Some who feel threatened could resist the transformation or leave the company. Others may struggle to master agile ways of working.

Helping midlevel managers make the transition to agile can take a lot of effort, but the payoff is worthwhile. Companies have long sought ways of enabling midlevel managers to add more value.2 Since many midlevel managers possess a wealth of experience, knowledge, and skill, redeploying them as hands-on individual contributors is one way to let them accomplish more than they do in managerial roles. Another way is to give midlevel managers the support and training they need to become leaders, with more responsibility for inspiring teams and providing them with the assistance and resources they need to be effective. In this article, we’ll explore how conventional organizations can turn midlevel managers into champions of enterprise agility by explaining what the transformation involves, explicitly communicating their expectations and the options available to managers, and enabling managers as they choose new roles and learn to work in agile settings.

Introducing managers to enterprise agility
At many companies we know, midlevel management includes some of the most capable, knowledgeable, and influential employees. Typical midlevel managers begin their careers as strong individual contributors and win a series of promotions that shift their responsibilities away from making individual contributions and toward directing the work of others. During this progression, these managers acquire influence they can use to shape the company’s character.

> Read the full article on the McKinsey website

By Aaron De Smet, Chris Smith, and Daidree Tofano

Source: McKinsey

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