You might have heard that between senior management and front-line employees there’s an idiomatic ‘30,000 ft drop’ – a gaping chasm of information, insight and inspiration lost between the two layers. However, middle managers exist within that space and are therefore in a key position to bridge the gap and influence performance.
It seems like a challenging place to be and research confirms that to be true. According to a study conducted among CMI members, 80% of middle managers recognise that they are important in building trust within the workplace but only 31% feel that those around them share that view.
Trust impacts performance
That’s a difficult fact to ignore considering trust influences performance. One study found that managerial activities can effectively improve performance, in particular, those of teams. To promote high team performance, managers, especially those directly in charge of teams, need to actively engage in fostering trust. This includes monitoring the level of trust in teams, managing team members’ perceptions of threat and initiating trust-building activities. All of which fall within the responsibility of middle managers.
Middle managers hold the key to unlocking trust
Research also identifies that the role middle managers take in strategic decision making put them in a key position to influence the rest of the organisation. These roles include:
- Synthesising information. They have a unique view of the organisation that allows them to interpret and evaluate information in a way that senior management can’t.
- Championing alternatives. This unique perspective means they are able to see alternative options and present these to upper management.
- Facilitating adaptability. Being ‘on the ground’ and seeing first hand the challenges and obstacles that staff experience, middle managers are best placed to foster flexible organisational arrangements when it comes to executing the strategy.
- Implementing strategy with intent. Middle managers are also best-placed to handle interventions that align organisational activities with the overall strategic intention.
Support middle managers to improve employee performance
What can organisations, senior leaders and managers themselves do to optimise the strategic role of middle managers?
- Organisations can invest in developing middle managers in their leadership skills
- Senior leaders can support middle managers through active involvement, coaching or mentoring. Keep them informed and display trust towards this layer of management.
- Middle managers can proactively seek out ways to improve their influencing (upwards, downwards and laterally), communications and decision-making skills.
Sources (articles available to IML ANZ members via Leadership Direct):
- Chartered Management Institute (2016), ‘The Middle Manager Lifeline’.
- Raman, SR 2009, ‘Middle managers’ involvement in strategic planning: an examination of roles and influencing factors’, Journal of General Management, vol. 34, no. 3, pp. 57–74.