All Articles Leadership Management Why you need to re-recruit your middle managers 

Why you need to re-recruit your middle managers 

Middle managers are more effective in their jobs when they can offer their teams coaching, connection and empowerment, writes Tammy Perkins.

5 min read


middle managers

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Effective employee engagement is pivotal for any organization, but let’s face it: Even when the leadership team does everything right on the surface, there can be a gap between middle management and employees. The priorities of middle managers and the tasks valued by the organization may not always align, weakening the bond between them and the employees.

Middle managers focus on performance, planning, processes, policies and conflict resolution. They evaluate employees, delegate tasks and set priorities. The objective they must accomplish on a given day dictates their role: coach, mentor, teacher, administrator or superuser. However, middle managers face numerous challenges that can be exhausting and demotivating, and many organizations need to provide adequate support to help them navigate. A recent global survey of middle managers conducted by McKinsey & Company revealed that only 20% of middle managers feel that their organizations allow them to be successful people managers. In comparison, 42% either don’t receive any support or are uncertain if they do.

Middle managers are vital to organizational success, and businesses must acknowledge this. According to the McKinsey survey, middle managers spend almost half of their time (49%) on nonmanagerial work, leaving only 28% of their time to manage and develop their teams. The survey reveals that organizational bureaucracy is the most common distraction for middle managers, taking them away from their core responsibilities.

Bridging the gap between strategies and tools is not enough. It requires building a culture with a unified vision, where middle management is fully committed and becomes the cohesive link with employees. How do we reshift our focus toward understanding our middle managers’ needs and eliminate the challenges that impede their success? With that question in mind, here are several strategies leaders can take to engage middle managers across their organization successfully:

Activate clarity and alignment

This disconnect with the middle is often due to a lack of clarity and alignment regarding managers’ duties. It is essential to have a clear vision and strategy for the business to align middle managers and foster better communication. Achieving this can ensure that leaders, managers and teams work together effectively and transparently.

Managers often receive an overload of information, which can be overwhelming. To help them separate the signal from the noise, leaders should create listening channels, tailor their communication to be level-appropriate and focus on essential topics. This will ensure everyone is on the same page and encourage engagement on the items that matter (and those that don’t).

Create a culture of belonging

Successfully engaging the middle starts with creating a culture of belonging where everyone feels connected. This can be achieved by fostering an environment where managers can ask questions freely, and all employees, including emerging leaders, are encouraged to contribute their ideas. When employees feel valued, it generates a sense of belonging, leading to higher morale, creativity and productivity. Encouraging middle managers to strengthen and engage their skills is essential, enabling them to solve problems better by refining their management and leadership skills. This will create a productive and vibrant culture where innovation can thrive.

Embrace scenario-based learning

Scenario-based learning is essential for managers to integrate their current roles, responsibilities and focus areas into their development plans. It helps in defining what success looks like and what their stretch goals are. 

As leaders, it is imperative to listen to managers and assist them in thinking through their priority next steps. A collaborative approach to problem-solving is vital. We need to identify the problems we are trying to solve for the business and the available resources. A weekly one-on-one meeting with the team can help prioritize tasks and brainstorm solutions to challenges, driving engagement and motivating high performers.

Nail the whys

Understanding the why behind the initiative is critical for managers. Taking the time to explain the reasoning behind a decision can help managers and teams comprehend it better, leading to better outcomes. Inform managers about the essential information they need, the actions they must take with their team and how the company or you would typically approach it.

In addition, it is helpful to provide managers with a brief one-pager that they can customize for their team’s specific needs. By discussing the why and providing relevant information, managers can be better equipped to lead their teams to success.

Celebrate high-performing managers

In the book “First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently,” Marcus Buckingham famously stated, “People leave managers, not companies.” Based on my experience, I’ve found this to be true. Therefore, it is essential to recognize high-performing managers as valuable assets to your organization. Besides fairly compensating middle managers, it’s necessary to motivate and inspire them by providing new growth opportunities. You can keep them engaged and invested in their work by getting to know your high-performing managers and encouraging them to present their unique ideas.

Leading by collaboration

Leadership is the foundation for shaping the culture and values of an organization. Leaders must practice and model the values they expect their managers to uphold. Both leaders and middle managers play a vital role in creating an organization’s culture. The ultimate goal should be to equip managers with the connectivity, empowerment, coaching and empathy they should offer their team members. Achieving success requires a collaborative effort.

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.


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