Thu | Aug 22, 2019

Christopher Zacca | Middle managers require strong change-management skills

Published:Wednesday | April 24, 2019 | 12:22 AM
Christopher Zacca, President & CEO of Sagicor Group Jamaica Limited.
The world of business is getting more exciting and Jamaica is no exception
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I think I speak for all executives when I say that it would be impossible for us to function without the capabilities of a strong middle management core. They are extremely vital to the success of any organisation and are essential to the proper flow of ideas and plans. Their roles are actually expanding in my view, and as a result, they are expected to consistently build their skill sets and competencies in order to be competitive in today’s dynamic business environment. One such skill that I want to focus on is the ability to effectively lead and manage change.

If you think about it, the ability to deal with change is a skill that is applicable to life in general, as, whether you are an executive or a janitor, your life will involve change of some sort. The business environment is also famous for throwing lots of surprises, and so organisations have to embrace and champion these occurrences.

In today’s world, change has become synonymous with growth and innovation, once there is proper execution. Therefore, middle managers must be equipped with the necessary tools, which will ensure that their organisations are not negatively impacted when changes occur. Indeed, during the moment of change, middle managers are uniquely placed to implement visions and get buy-in from employees.

Changes will be unique to individual organisations but some common occurrences throughout companies include changes in teams. People come, people go. People get promoted and people find other opportunities. As such, succession planning and training becomes critical for the middle manager to handle these realities. A very high employee turnover rate, for example, can be costly to the company and result in an unproductive workforce, and so preparation is key.

The constant introduction of new products and innovation is the other obvious change that is prevalent among many businesses. Organisations are constantly launching modern services and it is your job as a middle manager to assist with the buy-in of front-line staff and even clients. These changes can be very stressful for an organisation, and so learning how to communicate change and plan it is important.

How you manage change is probably most crucial to any organisation’s bottom line, especially where information is readily available to everybody, including your competitors. Without the ability to implement speedy and effective change, your profitability will not only be affected, you can be out of business. The business environment in which we operate, especially within the private sector, requires strong change-management skills.

MORE TRAINING PLATFORMS NEEDED

The truth is that these skills are not innate, it requires strategic work and a willingness to learn. If we are to be honest, however, there are very few avenues in Jamaica that provide training for middle managers to enhance these skill sets.

I’m grateful to the Make Your Mark Consultants team, who saw the need and has been hosting their annual Middle Managers Conference for the last 10 years. Other training seminars and conferences are very few and far in between. In the United States, for example, I believe there are more opportunities for training because of the size of that economy and the ease of getting from one place to another.

For C-Suite level managers, you also have a role in ensuring that change is as smooth as possible and that you provide the environment for middle managers to communicate to their teams. We have to step out of our lovely offices and talk to the middle managers and other team members.

Also be prepared to listen and receive feedback. There’s no need to be defensive when questions are being asked or if there is scepticism. Your job is to work with your middle managers to eventually win them over or at least get them to cooperate. Generally, creating an atmosphere of innovation and removing the fear of trying new things and of failure is crucial as a senior manager.

We have to encourage the next level to be innovative and not to be terrified that they’re going to get in ‘trouble’ for coming up with new things. How else will we be sure of a cadre of future leaders who will move the company forward in an uncertain future if we do not encourage innovation and reduce the fear of trying? If you wait on C-Suite to do everything, you lose time, as it just takes too long.

The world of business is getting more exciting and Jamaica is no exception. In the past, we probably would have had comfort levels and dragged our feet. However, I think we are realising now that there is no time to be complacent because of the competition driven by globalisation and the size of modern organisations.

Disruptions happen every day and large companies are not exempted. It’s a rule to accept that change is inevitable and we should embrace it. It’s an exciting future, in my view.

Christopher Zacca is president and chief executive officer of Sagicor Group Jamaica. The Make Your Mark Consultants team, this year, celebrates 10 years of hosting its annual Middle Managers Conference, slated for May 7 and 8.