Ignitions Ready
Author: Vince Thompson (Reprinted in part with permission from Society for Human Resource Management.)
Posted: December 15, 2007
Words of Wisdom
"…veteran middle managers hold many of the keys to corporate success. With their vast networks, understanding of the competitive landscape and ability to connect the vision to the field troops, managers have special power--power that they can harness with seven ignition points."


Four business trends are emerging that will allow managers to have more power within their firms:

  • The business world is becoming increasingly complex. Industries from manufacturing to music, transportation to telecom are experiencing a cycle of destruction and reinvention.
  • The baby boomers are leaving the workplace. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the shortage of skilled workers will exceed 10 million by 2010.
  • Business models are failing more quickly. With a global economy, increased competition and an accelerated business cycle, companies are learning that the next big idea is not likely to come from those at the top. It will come from those in the middle who not only understand the customers and vendors, but also to more quickly recognize the skills of their own employees and what is really possible.
  • The use of flexible work arrangements is growing. As firms work to retain talent and create more-productive environments, decades-long movements such as telecommuting, job-sharing and flextime are gaining ground.

Points of Ignition

After three years of exhaustive research, a custom survey and interviews with more than 100 working managers, it became apparent that veteran middle managers hold many of the keys to corporate success. With their vast networks, understanding of the competitive landscape and ability to connect the vision to the field troops, managers have special power--power that they can harness with seven ignition points. Here's a brief introduction to the "ignition points," as well as action steps that you, can take in your quest to leverage your power:

  • The manager as process master. Less than 10 percent of the true knowledge of a company's processes is neatly summarized in a manual. The rest resides safely in the minds of veteran managers who understand implicitly how to get things done, what's waste and what's not, and where the disconnects are located.

    Action item. Go deeper into the process with your team and your internal network. Discover how things work at a granular level. Then, use your knowledge to inform those across, above and below you how things really work. In the past, you might not have been consulted on that new software integration. In the future, with more power, you likely will be consulted, especially if you are using your knowledge of processes to help others inform their decision-making.

  • The manager as link maker. The veteran manager transmits information through new corporate pathways just as the brain manages the flow of energy by constantly creating new connections among cells. These link makers leverage their understanding of the players (and what they do within the company) to make things happen. They continually work to identify new ways to apply resources and to direct teams. In the process, they assume leadership roles and identify best practices.

    Action item. Work to understand people's passions and unharnessed skills so you'll be able to get those passions and skills working for the good of the company when times change. As a middle manager, you can make a tremendous impact by directing the action in times of change.

  • The manager as translator. Middle managers unite people of varying backgrounds, viewpoints and values behind common corporate goals.

    Action item. The ability to help people achieve the appropriate mind-set and level of understanding for success is a rare and powerful trait. Work to develop this.

  • The manager as scout. Middle managers are often the best contact points for customers and vendors; they also know the skill sets that exist under the company's roof.

    Action item. Invest more time in listening, not only to your team and internal networks, but to the customers and vendors as well.

  • The manager as pilot. In our research, we found a manager at Harrah's who identified the World Series of Poker as an acquisition target and served up the opportunity and plan to senior leaders. Understanding how they made decisions and how the asset would fit was instrumental. Harrah's came away with a $400 million asset at a fraction of the real value.

    Action item. The scout sees the opportunities inside and outside the company, while the pilot takes this information and guides it to reality. Use the other ignition points to help you as you take what you believe in and work to make it a reality.

  • The manager as bard. Each company has a valuable story and history that are worth describing. The bard is a manager with the ability to record and pass along organizational history in the form of stories that motivate and lead to future endeavors.

    Action item. Our cultures have been built on stories. Sharing a vision in story form is incredibly powerful. Are you on a hero's journey? Is this the tale of a boy and his dream? Is this a comeback story?

  • The manager as healer. Thoughtful managers are healers in tune with the spirit of the organization. They understand the emotional, psychological and even spiritual sides of the issues their employees are grappling with, and they recognize the impact these "soft" elements have on hard results.

    Action item. In times of loss, the corporate memo won't do. The best managers help their people work toward resiliency.

Given their unique roles in the middle, deep knowledge and credibility, managers represent the best way to re-craft the world of work. Managers can lead us from what we have today to the purpose-filled peace and success we want. With the four trends opening the path and the seven ignition points providing the leverage and guidance, now is the time for managers to shine.


Vince Thompson is a former AOL executive, Internet revenue consultant, speaker and the author of Ignited: Managers! Light Up Your Company and Career for More Power, More Purpose and More Success (FT Press, 2007).