As per this paradigm shift, middle managers must receive ample support from top leadership to fulfill their critical role. With influence both downward and upward, middle managers serve as the organizational compass. Investing in these “connecting leaders” will be crucial over the next few years as virtual management and communication become more prevalent.
Gallup reveals that middle managers account for 70% of the variation in employee engagement, greatly impacting organizational outcomes. Their unique positioning will only gain more importance in the future of work.
In this context, middle managers face mounting pressures from both ends. They may be tasked with managing up executives immersed in office politics or mentoring and coaching staff in addition to executive duties. Coupled with everything else they juggle at home, this makes for a frenetic environment.
They can no longer be obedient order-takers focused solely on operations. Instead, to translate ambiguous signals of change into clear roadmaps for their teams, these managers must be nimble strategists and visionaries.
Unsurprisingly, 43% of middle managers across levels report the highest rates of significant burnout, and 44% list organizational bureaucracy as their top frustration, reveals SHRM in “Unshackle Middle Managers to Thrive in the Future of Work.”
This highlights the need to redesign the middle management role for purpose and autonomy in modern work settings. The people leadership of middle managers is indispensable for guiding teams through seismic shifts, amidst rapidly evolving technology and work patterns. However, poor organizational design often sets them up for failure. Middle managers can be fully leveraged and valued by realigning their attention toward maximizing spans of control, building strategic capabilities, and increasing accountability.
The Critical “Middle-Out Effect”
With this broader mandate and their significant impact on engagement and culture, middle managers can have a substantial “middle-out” impact on organizational performance in at least two key areas: Performance and Retention. “The organizations that succeed at connecting employees to their culture can increase employee performance by up to 37% and retention by up to 36%.”
This makes sense since frontline supervisors have their ears on the ground. By tuning plans to better inspire and harness team members based on a deep understanding of ground realities, they enhance execution.
They also have a vantage point that allows them to spot major market shifts before executive dashboards. These signals can be channeled upward to positively influence business strategy.
Ushering in the “Middle-Level Leader”
The era of the corporate ladder is likely over. Talented and innovative leaders now occupy the center of the new organizational hierarchy with resources, autonomy, and prominence to amplify their “horizontal” impact on strategy and execution. In these disruptive times, forward-looking companies can achieve a sustained competitive edge and improve performance by reorienting their leadership development and culture around this reality. Here are some tips to help support this critical group of change agents:
- Simplify bureaucracy so middle managers can focus on high-value work.
- Encourage autonomy for imaginative solutions tailored to team needs.
- Promote cross-level collaboration to keep strategy grounded.
- Invest in capability-building through training in systems thinking, change leadership, etc.
- Spotlight exceptional efforts to spread best practices and attract talent.
- The intermediate stage deserves the spotlight. With the right organizational design and support, middle managers can drive the changes needed to help companies thrive amidst uncertainty. Their “horizontal” leadership represents an invaluable asset in turbulent times.
Let the middle stage take center stage! Empowering middle-level leaders also holds promise for bettering organizations in these complex, rapidly changing times.
To learn more about the crucial roles that middle managers will play in the future of work, and for helpful tips for both middle managers and their supervisors, join HRDQ’s webinar, The Unsung Heroes of Change: Middle Managers and Their Impact on the Evolving Workplace.