Middle Managers: Do They Matter?
Everyone in your company has a role and purpose in the organization. But middle management is a weird place to be. As a middle manager, I’ve often found myself questioning: am I a subordinate in this situation, or a leader? Is that my responsibility or theirs…? What exactly is my value?
Middle managers have a unique spot in the organization. I’m here to tell you that your middle managers are the ones you need to pay attention to in your organization. Why?
They are change initiators
Middle managers translate and interpret information from senior leadership to the rest of the organization while also bringing information from the bottom to the top. They have intimate access to both groups, so their support and feedback carries weight. No matter where you are in the organization, you want their buy in. Initiatives can live or die based on how managers communicate them. The way they interpret and translate organizational vision has a great impact on the success of an initiative. This applies when they are pitching an idea from leadership to their employees, as well as from employees to upper management.
You want to consider hiring upper leadership from within
Hiring externally into leadership roles is more expensive, and more of a risk. A study published in the Wall Street Journal found that “Not only were outside hires more expensive, but they were also 61% more likely to be laid off or fired and 21% more likely than internal hires in similar positions to leave a job on their own accord.” Managers who are promoted into senior leadership roles within the same company have higher rates of involvement and better understand what is expected of them. They typically deliver better results. Take care of your managers now if you want them to stay and lead your company in the future.
They drive growth
Senior leadership can have the best vision and business strategy, but they won’t go anywhere without well-managed teams ready to execute and act on the plans. Business growth relies on collaboration between leadership and employees. Because Middle-level managers are the link between these two groups that keep the organization moving, they have a key role in driving growth.
They are probably exhausted
Leading is hard. Following is hard. Doing both? Tricky. Alternating between working with senior leadership and subordinates takes a lot of mental and emotional energy. Middle managers constantly “switch hats” to conform to norms and expectations based on which group they are interacting with. Researchers have found that these micro-role transitions can take a toll. “Simply put, it is psychologically challenging to disengage from a task that requires one mindset and engage in another task that requires a very different mindset.” Middle managers often find themselves in conflicting situations when they are loyal to both groups. It’s important to help middle managers see their position as integrated and valuable to the company instead of “sometimes a subordinate, sometimes a leader”.
Now that we’ve discussed how important they are…what can you do to help your middle manager champions?
According to Harvard Business Review, many companies focus their training budgets on upper management. Giving middle managers continuous development makes managers feel appreciated and gives them the tools they need to navigate their roles. Investing in middle managers will help make them better leaders, and your company will reap the benefits.
Your middle managers were likely promoted to their role because they did well in their tactical operations job, right? When employees transition from tactical roles to management roles, they may need help learning to delegate and sharpening their communication skills. Connecting managers with mentors and coaches gives them one-on-one attention and access to “real world experience” that training cannot.
Everyone wants to know how they are doing. Middle managers get less feedback than other positions. They need feedback from executive leaders and from the employees they lead to help measure their performance.
Let them know you care
They say it’s lonely at the top, but when there is a solid group of leaders at the top and another established group of day-to-day operational employees, the lonely spot is often in the middle. Make an effort to engage with managers to learn about their daily business, and where they need support.
Now to answer the question I started with: YES, middle mangers matter! Because they are close to the day to day operations and are linked to upper management, middle managers are the connectors of your organization. Their unique position does not come without challenges, though. If you know a middle manager, let them know that they are valued and that dealing with the weird micro-role transitions is appreciated and worth it. Remember, you want them on your side whether you are a subordinate or a higher-level leader 😉 And if you’re a middle manager, give yourself a pat on the back because your unique role makes you an integral part of your organization. The company needs your perspective, because they won’t get such honest and well-rounded insights from anywhere else.
*If you still aren’t convinced, Google famously tried to go without middle managers in 2002 and it was a disaster. If Google can’t do it, can anybody?