When Management is Caught in The Middle

By, Kaye Vivian, Marketing Communications Consultant

There are moments when anyone in middle management of a firm can feel trapped between an order given by a partner and the staff likely to feel the negative impact of that order. When given such an order, who deserves support more--the boss who controls the manager's destiny with the firm or the staff who rely on and trust him/her to protect their interests?

It's a difficult call. To refuse a partner's directive will create trouble with the partner. To carry it out, however, there's sure to be trouble from the staff below. Professional staff will always recognize when an instruction doesn't make good sense. This can jeopardize a manager's credibility, whether the order appears to come from the manager personally, or whether the manager is seen to be acting blindly on an order. Whenever such an impression is given, the staff usually convert their feelings about the directive into a personal assessment of the manager, undermining the manager's ability to be effective in the future.

There can be repercussions up the heirarchical ladder as well. Other partners and peers often think less of the manager who carries out an order that has a negative impact on the firm or the staff. In addition, particularly in the case where a partner has a history of putting managers into such situations, they may be watching the dilemma and viewing it as a test of the manager's judgment, diplomacy, or even survival skills.

What's the Solution?

When handed a hot potato, the best thing for a manager to do is assume the role of intermediary. The goal is to emerge with reputation, dignity and authority intact. Remain neutral in attitude and convey the instruction, but put distance between the instruction and any personal opinions about it. If a manager can make it clear that he or she questions the instruction as well, but doesn't have the power or authority to change it or ignore it, the staff are less likely to direct any bad feelings toward the messenger.

Avoid bad-mouthing the partner as the source of the directive. It can help to talk to him or her to find out the reasoning behind the instructions. Then convey the reasons to the staff so they can understand the partner's goal. In the role of intermediary, the wise manager can also gather the staff's suggestions, comments and reactions and pass those back to the partner. In the end the instruction may still have to be carried out, but any fallout is likely to be directed to the source, rather than to the bearer of the message.

You may like these other stories...

From May 20-23, the Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM) held its annual conference. Frequent contributor Sally Glick picked up some ideas that she will be sharing with us in the coming days, as she has done in...
Success, for a practitioner in a busy CPA firm, requires the ability to handle multiple tasks effectively. To get everything done, CPAs typically track their agenda with a "to do" list or other open-item systems to...
Everyone loses clients. You've seen the statistics. Clients and heirs often change accountants, attorneys, and advisors after a death or divorce. That's understandable. What about ongoing relationships when the...

Upcoming CPE Webinars

Jul 16
Hand off work to others with finesse and success. Kristen Rampe, CPA will share how to ensure delegated work is properly handled from start to finish in this content-rich one hour webinar.
Jul 17
This webcast will cover the preparation of the statement of cash flows and focus on accounting and disclosure policies for other important issues described below.
Jul 23
We can’t deny a great divide exists between the expectations and workplace needs of Baby Boomers and Millennials. To create thriving organizational performance, we need to shift the way in which we groom future leaders.
Jul 24
In this presentation Excel expert David Ringstrom, CPA revisits the Excel feature you should be using, but probably aren't. The Table feature offers the ability to both boost the integrity of your spreadsheets, but reduce maintenance as well.