May 22, 2024


Business – Your Game

Stop Squeezing, Start Pleasing Your Middle Managers

While the world’s workplace has been going through extraordinary and often radical change, the practice of management and day to day business has been stuck in time warp.

New workers – especially younger generations – want their work to have meaning, flexibility, fun oh and they don’t want to be told what to do by command-and-control bosses. They want a manager to guide and coach them, to invite them to share their talents, to speak in their language and to inspire them to be more.

Gallup recently released a book outlining findings of its largest study on the future of work. In the book It’s the Manager they discuss the importance of these middle managers in managing remote workforces, hiring a diverse workforce, grappling with technological change and keeping employees engaged all while delivering year on year growth and return on investment to the executive and shareholders. No mean feat.

Decades of global Gallup research continues to show that these middle managers are the ones who make or break an organization’s success, my experience shows the same. When you support, nurture, train and empower masterful managers – ones who can identify the strengths and uniqueness of every team member and obtain their trust and buy-in – you begin to reap growth, retention and embed a positive, vibrant freedom based culture.

Gallup has found that the quality of middle managers is the single biggest factor in a company’s long term sustainable success and I couldn’t agree more. When a manager is equipped to meet the challenges of the modern business world, learn to coach and empower their people effectively and bring an unshakable mindset and energy to the table, individuals, the team and the company become high performing.

Ethan Mollick at Wharton, for example, recently conducted a large-scale analysis of the computer game industry and determined that the behavior of middle managers accounted for 22.3% of the variance in revenue. The Boston Consulting Group reached a similar conclusion, calling middle managers a “neglected but critical group” after surveying thousands of employees about the drivers of success at their firms.

The challenge is that few middle managers are given the respect, guidance and support for this critical linchpin role they provide. The middle manager is in a precarious position – the proverbial meat in the sandwich – they are no longer the expert who holds the information, nor are they the decision maker. While C-suite executives create big-picture plans, these middle managers are responsible for putting those plans into action and maintaining employee buy-in to the strategies regardless of the pressure to do more with less. Worse the work they often end up doing is unsatisfying (ie: chasing deadlines), unglamorous (performance management and rosters) and the recipients largely ungrateful (similar to parenting). These managers are constantly squeezed from pressure above them and below them in the organization.

It’s time for this to shift. These managers are the primary connection between the employing organisation and the frontline individual. They are the messengers of the wider company strategy, the contextualizer for each employee in their team, the motivator and the culture carrier. Their role more than ever has become the critical linchpin to ensuring ongoing success.

Here are four ways to try to ease the burden and stop squeezing and start pleasing your important middle managers:

  1. Nurture them – take the time to show a manager that they’re valued, include them in strategic discussions, invite them to the executive table now and then, provide them with understanding and interpreting the translation of the strategic to action, help them reduce the tasks on their plate and delegate more effectively.
  2. Unburden them – review your reporting lines, documents, delegations and structure to identify ways to remove or reduce unnecessary upward and downward interactions. Get rid of unnecessary meetings and reports that don’t move the needle and the company forward.
  3. Support them – provide mentoring, coaching or formal training to help them onboarding and transition effectively when they take on supervisory responsibilities. Help them to learn skills to build confidence, re-frame their identity and communicate, give feedback and lead and develop people effectively.
  4. Layoff them – don’t micromanage your middle managers as it can often create unnecessary role switching for them. Allow them the freedom to implement strategies, engage their people and get the task done the way they decide and provide regular encouragement and suggestions for continual improvement.

With the increase in workplace safety statistics for stress and anxiety it is critical to understand the unique psychological pressures that are faced by middle managers. Hold regular check-ins with them to see how they are travelling, given them respect, encouragement and time out when they need it and to continue to implement strategies for easing the burdens that come along with their in the middle positions. You’ll be glad you did.