As a leader in your company, if you’re frustrated with your middle management, you have only yourself to blame. The success or failure of middle managers rests upon the support of upper management and how well both parties work together. For middle management to do their jobs properly they must first understand the company’s Mission, Vision and Goals – something they cannot do without the guidance and modeling of upper management.
Since middle managers live in space between upper management and employees, they are best utilized as your "big picture," players but only if you give them enough voice and autonomy to be that for you.
As a conduit from employees to ownership, middle managers can help facilitate understanding, improve morale and give a voice to "the people," of the company. At the same time, if properly trained, they can make leadership’s plans and desires look more desirable to front line staff, bridging peace and increasing compliance.
When not properly supported with education, training and the trust of their employer, middle managers become ineffectual pawns, trapped between the demands of upper management and the frustrations of staff.
How to Empower the Middle
As upper management you have an important role to play in helping middle managers understand and fulfill their role. By providing opportunities for skill development in administrative, education, and supporting roles for your team and by modeling these behaviors in your work with them, you give these managers the tools necessary to succeed. If you think about it as grooming them to one day be at your level of expertise and as helping them build their career in management, it will be easy to know what to do when working with middle managers.
Every company has unwelcome news or changes to deliver at some point. Many times a email is sent out announcing the new changes without consulting with middle managers about how best to handle the issue. Giving managers the information to deal with but without talking to them about what possible obstacle they may envision or in what ways they might break the news to employees to encourage them to buy in, is a big mistake.
By not consulting with your conduit first, you miss out on valuable feedback from someone with firsthand knowledge of daily practice and the opportunity to solve problem before it starts. Giving middle managers a voice, engages them in your ideas making them much more likely to "buy in" themselves. As part of the solution, middle managers can go a long way towards squashing any issues before they arise.
Once you’ve evaluated their insights and agreed on an approach, let them carry the news and the solutions back to their employees with your full support. You may even see them modeling your behavior in getting employees to buy into the change, by giving them a voice and a chance to problem solve. At the very least, because of the process, all employees will feel heard and fully understand why changes must be made, making for a smoother transition and less resistance.
On the front lines of every company, you have a diverse array of workers with a variety of skill sets, interests, attitudes and home or life issues – all of which need managing. But because of the natural mix, it can be a challenge to manage employees in a one-size-fits-all way. This is why it’s crucial to educate your middle managers on how to spot the strengths, weaknesses, learning styles, and talents of their employees, so that they can tailor their approach to each individual’s situation.
A company that cares has an open door policy wherein an employee knows they can reach out for help, should an employee recognize they need it, but a company that shines has a proactive middle manager monitoring the needs of their front lines and filling in the gaps, by offering help before it’s ever requested.
An empowered middle manager can assess the training needs of staff and then create and implement strategies, while taking into account their individual needs or challenges. This is the kind of behavior that should be cultivated within middle managers through their own education within the company and in mentorship with upper management.
A boss can make or break the work experience for employees. Which is why, a company’s retention rate is partially dependent upon a good working relationship between first line managers and their employees. Middle managers can make or break your relationship with employees as well.
In a time of economic upheaval and diminished resources, management can no longer rely on perks or incentives as much as they might like. Thankfully, as many studies have shown, overall worker satisfaction lies more prominently in the arenas of positive feedback, autonomy and empowerment. Recognition of employees’ contributions can go a long way in building and retaining employee morale.
Supporting your middle managers and front line employees is more than saying, "Good job," or making them employee of the month. Real support means recognizing your workers individual strengths and positively reinforcing them. Noting and valuing a particular skill set and then providing growth opportunities that play to that skill set, is an extremely effective way to build employee good will and loyalty. By doing this with your managers, you will find they pass this on to their employees as well.
Empowering your managers allows it to trickle down to front line employees, increasing everyone’s satisfaction in the workplace. But effective management is not a “one and done,” process – it is ongoing and it is a consistently malleable blend of outside resources from education, open dialogue, observation, modeling and leadership.
Remembering that YOU set the tone for your managers and in turn they set the tone for those below them, means your frustrations lie with you alone. Middle managers that have been given the opportunities of growth, skill development, critical thinking and the voicing of their opinions are those that become confident, knowledgeable and skilled in being a two-way conduit of communication, in both directions for your company.
Copyright, Cecile Peterkin. All rights reserved.