Tottenham Report: “Nothing happens until something moves,” Albert Einstein

May 16, 2023 10:00 PM

Tottenham Report: “Nothing happens until something moves,” Albert Einstein

Photo: Shutterstock
  • Andrew Tottenham — Managing Director, Tottenham & Co
May 16, 2023 10:00 PM
  • Andrew Tottenham — Managing Director, Tottenham & Co

In recent weeks, a number of colleagues have spoken to me about their frustration with dealing with middle management at certain gaming operators. These colleagues are from service and equipment-supply companies hoping to get operators to try innovative products that my colleagues believe could have a positive impact on the business. 

It is not that middle management have come down against the new product. Rather, no decision has been made, even after months of discussions. The question that comes to my mind is, why does this happen? Why don’t middle managers make decisions one way or another, instead of holding off until the supplier walks away? 

One of the challenges faced by an organisation is balancing between being innovative and protecting what has already been achieved. For organisations to succeed, it is not sustainable to keep on doing what they have kept on doing for years. 

Times change, tastes change, people get older, a younger market wants different things. Organisations need to rise to this challenge. 

Too often, middle managers see a new idea or product as a risk to be avoided. Initiatives die, not because of a negative decision but because no decision was made. 

But this behaviour doesn’t just affect buying decisions. It also spills over into the lives of frontline employees who have to deal on a daily basis with middle management. 

The biggest asset a service provider has is its frontline employees. These people represent the company, face to face, with its customers. They hear what the customers say, while the customers hear what the employees say and see what they do.  

If encouraged in a structured way, the employees can be a source of ideas on how to improve the operation and how to better cater to a company’s clients. But too often, their line managers don’t listen to them. This leads team members to believe that their opinions are not valued; their voices go unheard and they get frustrated. 

In early 2022 as the pandemic was quieting down, a video appeared on Tik Tok, which coined the phrase “quiet quitting”. Quiet quitting is when employees come to work, do the bare minimum, show little enthusiasm for their job, and leave at the appointed hour. No more, no less.  

In my view, quiet quitting is nothing new. For years, surveys of employees have shown that approximately 15% are actively disengaged at work. It is as if you have paid for a box of corn flakes and it is only half full. You wouldn’t accept it from a supermarket, so how do you get more value from your team members? 

In the worse case, your frontline employees quit, as they did en masse as people returned to work after lockdowns were relaxed. The pandemic gave people the time to consider what was important in their lives and allowed them to recalibrate. Inevitably, this led many to conclude that the jobs they were doing just weren’t worth it. It wasn’t quiet quitting, it was active quitting! 

What is causing this middle-management inertia? Clearly something is wrong.  

I think it comes from the top. Senior management micromanage and second guess the decisions of middle management. This leads the middle manager to determine that it is better not to socialise ideas that might prompt a negative response or at worst, ridicule, from their boss. 

Senior managers do not give middle managers the freedom to make mistakes. Middle managers are the leaders of tomorrow and they will need to be comfortable with taking decisions, knowing that some of those will be prove to be wrong. Nobody has a monopoly on good decisions.  

Surely, it is better to give the executive the tools and training to understand the implications of a decision, what information they need to support the decision and how to analyse it, rather than encourage them not to make a decision. After all, what are they being paid for? 

Executives should be encouraged to listen with an open mind, test ideas, discuss their findings, think how tests could be improved. It is up to senior management to create the environment where ideas can flourish. Effective management is not a top-down one-way street. 

When people are listened to, they feel valued and being valued is part of the foundation of loyalty.