Middle management is usually the weakest link in the chain of every organization. A study that gathered data from the most unengaged employees found that middle-level managers form the biggest bulk of the bottom five percent.
The results are startling, considering they play a key role crucial to the company’s success. They have a direct impact on the well-being of their employees and act as communication conduits for senior managers. When senior management fully supports and trains their middle-level managers, they can bring positive change in the organization.
However, companies that fail to fully involve mid-level managers while expecting them to implement policies they didn’t have a hand in creating will not achieve their set goals. In many organizations, these managers and their employees are dissatisfied and disengaged. The following are some reasons why.
They Are Rarely Trained To Do Their Job And Have Badly Trained Managers Themselves
Middle managers are rarely trained to do their job. According to a study by learning innovator Grovo that involved over 500 middle-level managers from various industries, 98% of surveyed managers felt leaders at their organizations need more training in issues such as time management, employee turnover, professional development, conflict resolution, and project management.
Even when present, management training is usually ineffective. The large volume of information makes it almost impossible to remember and apply, and companies rarely do follow-ups to reinforce the training.
Top-level managers lack training too. According to a Professor of Management at Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management Ray Friedman, how middle managers treat their subordinates reflects how their bosses treat them. So when their bosses are not properly trained, the effect is felt at all levels. When middle managers have a healthy relationship with their bosses, the effects are passed down the layers.
There is Increased Pressure to Perform
Middle managers are constantly under pressure to perform, which leaves no time for learning. It’s no wonder that a study found that they are the most depressed group in many organizations. The role that middle managers play has undergone major transformations over the last few decades.
The downsizing, cost-cutting, and restructuring that happen during times of crisis affect middle managers more since they are often blamed for the slack. Apart from the layoffs, middle-level management has experienced major changes that have led to new demands concerning behavior, skills, and competencies. Managers are now expected to become mentors and coaches for their people, and there is increased pressure to perform more than ever.
They are Always in Meetings
Middle managers find it hard and exhausting to context-switch across different domains, functions, and skill sets as they go from one meeting to another. This frustration is aggravated when the middle manager is constantly inundated with meetings with no breathing space in their schedules.
Being in meetings the whole day leaves no time for thinking and casually connecting with people. Managers who spend most of their time attending meetings tend to lose touch with the people they manage over time.
How to Train and Grow Your Managers?
Your company’s bottom line depends on the caliber of managers you have. The way they manage directly impacts the engagement, motivation, and productivity of your people. The buck stops with them. It, therefore, makes sense to help them become excellent at their jobs. The following are a few ideas.
1. Educate Them About Their Role
Many managers rarely have a clue of what their role entails as nobody told them what people expect from them and they only had bad examples to follow themselves. Part of the reason is that the majority of managers were promoted to the position after excelling in their previous assignments, and not because they were good in management.
However, management is a different role altogether and requires a unique set of soft skills that experience in previous roles can’t provide. Such skills include listening, accountability, building relationships, the ability to make sound decisions, and motivating others. Therefore, if your organization is willing to entrust people with management positions, it should also be willing to invest in educating the managers on what is expected of them.
2. Train them To Be Better Coaches and Communicators
A manager’s role primarily involves dealing with people and having conversations. In fact, it would not be wrong to say that leaders get paid to have effective conversations. You should, therefore, educate them to become better coaches and communicators. Proper communication is clear, transparent, and consistent, and it plays a key role in clarifying expectations, building relationships, managing conflict, and giving honest feedback.
Coaching enables leaders to support their employees to identify their blind spots and confidently go after ambitious goals. Instead of acting as gatekeepers who stand between the frontline employees and their growth, managers should coach their team members to constantly learn and fulfill their potential in their respective roles.
However, employee development is a continuous process, and you should not do it once or twice a year to tick off an item on a checklist. Coaching should happen regularly at frequent intervals.
3. Build Trust
As a leader, you should have very high character and integrity expectations from your managers. Trust is essential for effective leadership since it makes your team feel a sense of belonging and encourages people to work towards a collective purpose.
According to the Harvard Business Review, employees working in high-trust environments are 76% more engaged and report a 50% higher productivity rate. Without trust, everything else falls apart.
Building trust is an ongoing process. When you establish trust with your managers, you should continually nurture it by being transparent, owning mistakes, seeking out feedback, and giving credit where it’s due.
“We look for three things when we hire people. We look for intelligence, we look for initiative or energy, and we look for integrity. And if they don’t have the latter, the first two will kill you, because if you’re going to get someone without integrity, you want them lazy and dumb.” – Warren Buffett
4. Be transparent
Your manager is an essential communication link between top-level management and frontline employees. They provide executives with valuable information about the day-to-day workings of the organization and ensure that information from senior management gets to the employees.
If the organization fails to bring middle managers onboard by not sharing valuable information with them, the employees will also be out of touch with the organization’s goals and objectives. You should always share honest and transparent information such as company values, mission, goals, progress, successes, and setbacks with your managers so that they can pass it along to the frontline workers.
Knowing how to communicate is especially important in our ever-changing and dynamic world. The next crisis – a financial crisis or a pandemic as we have seen in 2020, could just be around the corner. Do you managers what essential messages to communicate when the times get tough?
5. Use a Strengths-Based Approach To Career Development
Every manager has weaknesses, but they also have innate strengths. Although you should not ignore the weaknesses, studies have shown that focusing on strengths rather than trying to fix mistakes creates more engaged employees and is better for the company’s bottom line.
Strong leaders allow their managers to manage based on their strengths and support them in areas of their weaknesses. Focusing on weaknesses erodes trust and creates friction. On the other hand, a strengths-based approach leads to faster growth and high positivity in the workplace.
6. Get Each Manager a Coach
Today’s employees prefer the opportunity for personal growth to financial growth. And over the long term, there is no financial growth possible without personal growth. People no longer want a boss who dictates what to do without giving regular feedback. Instead, people expect a manager who can coach them, value them, and help them build their strengths. A strong leader involves their employees in setting goals and expectations and communicates more openly, honestly, and frequently.
As Gallup found out, the number one reason why many employees switch jobs is career growth opportunities. A coach will help your managers grow and see their blind spots. They can give practical advice on how to offer emotionally intelligent support and help them build confidence while dealing with challenges and setbacks which every manager faces.
Effective middle-management is critical for your organization’s success. Your manager is responsible for setting goals, motivating employees, and ensuring that the company’s day-to-day activities run smoothly. And as a leader, it is upon you to ensure that they have the necessary tools required to keep your employees engaged and productivity high.
This includes giving them the right training to prepare them for their role, building trust, being transparent, and dealing with change. Proper training should educate managers on the importance of their role and teach them to become better coaches and communicators. It should also be current and regularly updated with the latest research and findings, and focus on improving your manager’s strengths rather than fixing their weaknesses.