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AI will not replace middle managers and remote team leaders

AI Cant Replace Middle Managers And Remote Team Leaders

Dire prospects of the economy are forcing business leaders to eliminate middle managers. The axe may chop remote team leaders as an effective method for reducing costs. Some think a simple AI program could replace remote team leaders and middle managers altogether. Is this true?  Before we get into the meat of this article, let’s define middle managers.

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Middle managers are employees who are one hierarchical level above the front-line workers and at least one level below senior management. Remote team leaders are middle managers who translate senior management mandates into realizable chunked sized bites of goals and objectives. These goals are quantifiable and measured based upon a pre-designed performance metric. Remote team leaders manage front line remote staff and virtual contractors working in distributed teams to achieve individual, team and program goals.

Can artificial intelligence ( AI ) replace middle managers and remote team leaders ?

The burning question of today, Can’t AI (artificial intelligence) programs track individual and team progress metrics? Why do we need middle managers?

Accountants keeping the financial records may recommend this business function as the lowest fruit and least risky from the non-revenue asset tree to pick. Why?  Because middle managers remote team leads aren’t the producers of the product. Staff occupying remote team leadership roles do not create or deliver the service for which fees are earned. Further, virtual team leaders really don’t have much of a say on vision and the strategic direction of the company. Who needs them?

If your answer is, no one, be careful. This may be a dangerous strategic initiative. And costly. Much more costly than the projected savings. How so you might ask?

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Harvard Business Review published research, Don’t Eliminate your Middle Managers, where they studied human resource data from  1,700 multinational companies.  They overlaid  quantifiable data  (hours of professional development, internal promotions and lateral appointments, and attrition)  with statistics from McKinsey Consulting company (Organizational Health Index). McKinsey’s data emphasized intangible  metrics such as staff empowerment, motivation, innovation and inclusivity.  They ran the numbers and compared each  company’s financial performance against one another.

Companies investing in human capital achieve 4 times higher financial performance

Their findings were not surprising. Multinational companies who invested in their managers were found to have “superior long-term financial performance” at a level that was four times higher than their competitors.

How can forward-thinking companies apply research findings to real world scenarios encountered?  What applications can be gleaned from this research?  First, its not just any middle manager that adds value.

One theoretically can’t pluck one from the 100,000 of job applicants looking for a remote management or remote leadership position and place them within your company for immediate success.

Best practices: Build managerial pipeline and promote from within

The research points to the experience of Walmart where store managers can earn up to $400,000 annually (against $125,000 average) and $10,000 to $20,000 in Walmart stock. This Fortune 100 company decided early on to:

  • Promote from within
  • Develop staff at the lowest levels to have readily available a managerial pipeline
  • Provide immediate on-the-job coaching and mentorship
  • Prepare associates for supervisory positions with on-the-job training
  • Develop a free educational curriculum based upon projected future human capital needs of the company (cybersecurity, logistics, business and supply chain management)

This managerial approach could be promoted as best practice. It seems practical, logical, and has proven the test of time.

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Adopting a strategy of investment in human capital goes further than the five tips above.   There are still questions to answer. Business problems to solve.

How do you determine within your workforce who to promote? Who to mentor? Who should we pick as the one who has the most future potential? Who can deliver for our company?

Of course, the questions raised are harder to answer than to ask. We may offer a possible pathway to guide corporate leadership. An aspect of successful implementation would be to delve in the psychology of this best practice.

Internally promoted middle managers are assets giving innumerable benefits to their employer

Think about it. The real reason for promoting from within is that the former front-line employee at the lowest level, when promoted to middle management will  become the company’s best cheerleader. He will motivate other line staff with the unstated, implied and very real message, “I started where you are, and look where I am now!” The newly promoted middle manager will serve as the:

  • Personification of company success (role model) and its values
  • Loyalty and commitment to the company are rewarded
  • Hard-work and going above and beyond are valued
  • Personal and family sacrifice will be recognized with increased status and influence
  • Team comrade is appreciated
  • Best equipped as built-in mentor to the newly hired and recalcitrant long timers
  • Less likely miscommunication up and downstream
  • Embodiment of internal skills training gaps that need to be filled

Companies who offshore and to a large extent, outsource,  rarely have this opportunity. Even those who look to poach top talent generate the opposite effect. Demoralizing their workforce that can attribute to lower productivity, product and service quality and unnecessary errors and product defects. Even to the point of sabotage of the newly hired middle manager.

To maximize human capital investment is to realize unpaid and unattributed discounts that an internally promoted middle manager can provide.

Key distinctions between remote team management and remote team leadership

If we look at internal promotion and the business process used for selecting front line virtual team leads to enter the middle management ranks, we also notice (according to another HBR article) these two points.

There is a clear and decisive distinction between:

  • Managers, as those who serve the strategic role of administering and supervising people (staff), operations, places (field offices, satellite offices, warehouses), service delivery (consultants, contractors), or things (finished product, widgets, inventory), in comparison to
  • Leaders, as those who are inspire others to be their best and produce the highest quality product, goods or serve toward the common goal of company survival, success, and growth

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In today’s chaotic times, middle managers must be agile, shrewd and adept at handling both.

The functions of leadership and administrative management must be carried out with relative ease. And, with little official or written guidance. The middle manager of today must navigate treacherous terrain alone. It isn’t until one makes a major misstep, will the heavy hand of senior leadership render its guilty verdict of “dismissal” due to incompetence and negligence.

Qualities to seek for picking the best remote team lead to promote to middle management

The qualities for which senior leaders search in an attempt to find the best middle manager ( remote team supervisor ) from the pack of rivaling wolves are people who can:

  • Connect formerly opposing groups with one another (management vs union or management vs front line labor). I recall the scene from the Robert DeNiro movie, “Ronin.” “Are you management or union?” Answer, “If I were management, I would not have offered you a cigarette.
  • Lead from a situational standpoint. This means sometimes middle managers must follow the lead of the front line remote staffers to solve an intricate problem. Overcome an unspoken glitch in the system. Locate a quick work-around. Navigate a solution presenting a bottleneck. It definitely means that middle management should follow the directives of senior management, even when they may personally disagree that there exists more suitable alternatives.
  • Put ego in check. Frequently for the benefit of management or the appeasement of your front line remote personnel, you gotta take a hit. You ego must be in check to take a back seat. From admitting you were wrong, or made an incorrect assumption based upon spotty information. You must stand tall and swallow your pride. When you take a small (minor) hit for the team, when  it is KNOWN by all involved that you are truly not the guilty party, you’ve earned some chips  that will be paid back double or triple whenever you are backed into a corner, in a bind. Like a caged tiger. Someone will volunteer their hand to give you an out.
  • Serve as a conduit for the sharing of information across business levels, lines and functions. Once again, situational leadership comes into play. For one who serves as the conduit by which information flows can take many forms.
    • Showing empathy for all personnel regardless of hierarchical position
    • Involving, engaging and influencing others
    • Brokering and coordinating meetings across levels, lines and functions
    • Passing information up and down the organizational chart
    • Balancing corporate requirements with employee time and resource allocations constraints

It’s all too easy and tempting to become discouraged. As you cheerlead for management, you gotta have some energy in reserve to be your own best advocate too.  Once you obtain your dream job of middle management as a virtual team leader, you begin to see the inherent downsides to managing remote staff. And, you could become complacent. The very type of middle manager you swore to yourself you would not become.

Creative ideas to keep your remote team engaged:

Risks related to virtual team leadership and remote team supervisor

Now you are occupying a remote team position on the opposing team (management). It’s imperative to recognize a few risks inherent in remote supervisory jobs.

  • Getting professionally burnout from lack of daily recognition, pats on the back, and “that a boy” praise. You’re on the giving end now, not the receiving end. So, hop to it!
  • Feeling emotionally drained as front line telecommuters come to you now to voice their problems (job-related and home related) for which you have very little to no control. Finding the right words of solace and making fine distinctions between the precise level of support to give can be just as draining as experiencing the negative event yourself.
  • Unnecessarily exposing oneself (your faults, skill gaps) to others as a means by which you make yourself seem more approachable to your subordinates. However, your actions could have the opposite effect. The invitation for criticism. This is definitely not wanted in a highly competitive environment today.
  • Analyzing all sides of a particular business scenario that you become immobilized with cognitive overload. Unable to take decisive action as you grow weary of upsetting the apple cart of opposing interests (senior management or front line tele-commuting staff).

We hold the position that middle managers are more important than ever before. Particularly in a remote and/or hybrid, mixed location environment.

Who better to know which hand is doing what? Who is on first base? Than the remote team lead. We venture to suggest virtual team leaders are indispensable and invaluable assets to an organization. Low hanging fruit is often ripe and ready to be plucked by companies who value them the most. Don’t let disparaging thoughts and comments influence senior management to rid themselves of the very asset that fuels the corporate engine. Or fail to recognize their vital importance.

Last thing you need in this business environment, is for a sly competitor to poach a remote team lead who adds value for which the corporation has realized at a deep discount.

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