First, let’s define the term “middle management” within an organization. Middle management refers to the intermediate level of management with an organization, occupying a position between top-level executives and front-line supervisors. It typically includes managers, directors, or department heads who are responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations and activities of specific departments or teams.
The main role of middle managers is to bridge the gap between the strategic decisions made by top management and the practical implementation of those decisions by lower-level employees. They act as a communication channel between upper management and the workforce. One might say that leading a team effectively to execute the company’s strategies is one of the most important responsibilities of an organization’s management team. To achieve this within a set timeframe and budget, managers must foster a high-performance team environment. They play a fundamental role in talent development, a factor that is crucial for any growing organization’s health and financial performance.
You would think that as such an important asset, managers would be given the tools and freedom to focus on meaningful work. However, a recent survey proves otherwise. Surveyed middle managers reported spending nearly half of their working time on nonmanagerial work rather than focusing on the work that makes an organization run – nurturing talent.
Managers can’t achieve greatness in isolation. They need a supportive ecosystem, including clear expectations, targeted training, inspiring leadership examples, and adequate infrastructural support. Research shows that having more top-performing middle managers leads to much better financial outcomes. What actions can organizations and executives take to create more top-performing managers and in turn, increase the value they bring?
Optimize the Organization’s Structure
Organizational optimization is the practice of aligning and making the most of an organization’s resources to maximize success in achieving its goals and objectives. By systematically reviewing an organization’s structure, leaders can identify where their managers are not set up to succeed and create value.
A couple of common mistakes are, 1 – assigning overly large spans of control creating a significant strain on managers’ time and leaving them with little opportunity to give meaningful coaching or to spend sufficient time on strategy. And, 2 – promoting successful individual contributors into a people leadership role without finding out if they’re motivated by managing others and if they have the competency to do so.
Management is responsible for so much in the organization. Middle managers are the key to effectively executing strategies and achieving company goals.
Reset Manager Roles
Organizations can conduct a thorough review of manager roles using, for example, focus groups and calendar analysis. Management tasks should be categorized based on whether they add value or not. Then, begin to look for ways to automate repetitive tasks, canceling unnecessary meetings, and eliminating as much bureaucratic work as possible. Generative AI can be leveraged to update the way a number of day-to-day activities are completed.
Once managers’ roles have been redesigned, make sure that your current managers have all the skills needed to perform in their new role. A benchmark process can be used to define the skills and competencies necessary to perform at the top level in different leadership roles. This data can guide future hiring needs as well. Once gaps in your managers’ current skillset have been identified, provide the training and resources for individuals to upskill to maximize their performance. This benefits both the employee and the company. Growth is consistently rated as one of the top things individuals are seeking in their work. Maintaining the best workforce skills for the company’s current and future goals makes good business sense.
Are Cups Overflowing?
Research shows that middle managers are the most burned-out job level across organizations, as they’re tasked with implementing changes in the organization through their direct reports while helping them to stay engaged and motivated, what’s sometimes forgotten is that middle managers are employees too!
What can you do?
- Foster a Supportive Work Culture by encouraging open communication, providing ways to get emotional support, and acknowledging the importance of work-life balance.
- Set Realistic Expectations that are reasonable and achievable. Avoid overwhelming them with excessive responsibility.
- Provide Training and Resources and include programs that focus on stress management, time management and leadership skills. Invest in the tools that help them to handle challenge effectively.
- Facilitate Peer Support by creating opportunities for middle managers to connect with and support each other. Peer support can be invaluable in coping with burnout.
- Recognize and Appreciate Effort regularly and show your appreciation one-on-one and in group settings.
- Encourage Delegation and Empowerment as part of the company culture. Managers should be routinely delegating tasks to reduce the burden and give them a sense of empowerment in their roles.
- Encourage Regular Breaks during the day and by using vacation time. Encourage your managers to lead by example by taking breaks themselves.
- Conduct Burnout Workshops so that managers can recognize it in themselves and with individuals on their team. Organize workshops that address burnout, stress management, and resilience, providing managers with practical strategies for managing their well-being.
- Offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) and make sure that everyone knows that it’s available and how to engage in the confidential counseling services and mental health resources provided.
“A CEO’s performance is as good as the performance of their middle managers”
Med Jones, American Economist and President of Research Organization, International Institute of Management.
The final step is to build accountability mechanisms to help reinforce what great looks like and to give middle managers continuous progress updates on how they are doing. Understanding what they are accountable for and linking it to the company’s overall strategy and goals helps to give managers a purpose.
People management should be the most important aspect of middle managers’ job. Provide the opportunity for them to be evaluated through a 360 process. This process elicits feedback from those in the organization who surround and are impacted by the manager’s performance, including their direct reports, peers, and their own manager.
Additional accountability comes by maximizing the use of your organization’s performance management system by using it to set short- and long-term goals, provide continuous feedback, performance reviews, and consequence management.
Companies cannot afford to overlook their middle managers who are key contributors to both organizational health and financial performance. Leaders take note, top performing managers will not only be better equipped to nurture the talent that is the foundation of a healthy workplace, they can also increase ROI by directly adding to bottom-line revenue. That’s a win-win!
How Can We Help?
We help our clients build top-performing teams and retain the best talent by:
- Offering a comprehensive recruiting process that helps you to attract and hire the best sales and leadership talent.
- Our Assessment comes as part of our recruiting process, and it gives an in-depth look at an individual’s behavior, motivators and skills.
- A customized report that gives the keys to managing and motivating the best performance from your new hire, that can be used as part of the onboarding process.