The Middle Matters: Understanding the vital role of middle management

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The Middle Matters: Understanding the vital role of middle management

Posted by: Phil Kelly
Category: Articles

In lots of organisations, there is a critical part of the workforce that is often overlooked: middle management.

At our recent High-Performance seminar, CEO of Brother UK Phil Jones MBE spoke about the pain points for businesses right now. Detailing the drastic changes in working habits post-COVID-19, one of the key things Phil mentioned was that “every organisation is struggling with the human factor” – levelling the functionality of the company with the needs and expectations of its employees. This commonplace balancing act often falls in the laps of middle management to navigate. It’s middle managers, Phil adds, who are feeling the most pressure.

This resonated with us. We have worked with companies of all sizes over the past ten years. Most of these organisations have embedded a traditional staffing hierarchy; the top executives or leaders are steering the ship – setting the targets and mapping out the future – whilst frontline employees are the ones executing the daily tasks or dealing directly with clients and customers.

Within this structure, middle management roles sit at the nexus between strategy and execution. Not only are they pivotal in translating high-level directives into action, but they are also the most responsible for the health of a workplace culture. As remote and hybrid work takes over — and the distance between employees increases — middle managers are more important than ever.

“Middle management is not about being in the middle. It’s about being on the edge and being the bridge.” – Simon Sinek, author, and motivational speaker

The significance of your middle management cannot be overstated, yet we repeatedly see and hear from middle managers who feel underutilised and underappreciated. They often grapple with having to navigate the needs of those above them and below them, answering to both leadership and their teams. Many of the middle managers we meet have been inadequately trained, offered limited support, and feel as if they lack authority.

A recent McKinsey Global Survey demonstrated that many companies inadvertently hinder the effectiveness of their middle managers. Companies often burden middle managers with administrative tasks and bureaucratic processes, diverting their focus from what should be their primary, valuable functions: nurturing talent, encouraging growth within the organisation, and shaping strategies.

How can you support your Middle Managers?

Through our years of experience delivering leadership training and leadership development programmes across the world, we know the most effective ways organisations can invest in their managers…

Invest in training:

Middle managers are instrumental in driving and inspiring performance within their teams. Their position grants them the influence necessary to shape and lead their teams, but their effectiveness hinges on their people skills. Adept and personable managers can serve as mentors, coaches, and facilitators, fostering an environment conducive to productivity and growth. They also play a crucial role in talent development and retention, identifying high-potential employees and opportunities for growth and development within an organisation.

The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.”

 – Ken Blanchard, business strategist and author

Strong interpersonal skills enable middle managers to communicate, build rapport, and foster trust within their teams, creating a supportive, functioning work environment where employees feel valued and motivated.

Leadership Courses and Programmes are a brilliant, valuable way for organisations to implement formal development and provide crucial training in people management. Bespoke and directed workshops for middle managers can offer incredible value and return on investment.

The reach of an effective course’s impact is often underestimated (we know what you are thinking – as a course provider, we would say that!). Not only can a training course help managers enhance their leadership and people skills, but programmes often cover a wide range of topics. This can include communication, strategic thinking, emotional intelligence, decision-making, and change management – all vital skills middle managers must have in their toolbox.

Consider Coaching and Mentoring support:

There is a risk that comes with managing other people (and being responsible to other people): burnout. It’s a frequent consequence of emotional labour and something common among middle managers. For those consistently dealing with many different people at different levels of an organisation, middle managers need to guard their energy. You can mitigate this risk by offering support for managers.

Offering direct mentoring and coaching programmes can provide vital guidance and support to managers One-on-one sessions or focused work coaching allow managers to receive personalized feedback, advice, and insights from seasoned professionals who can help them navigate challenges and refine their approach to their role.

Having accessible, reliable support available can be key to enabling managers to perform consistently. Adopting an individualised approach to these check-ins is also beneficial; decide how often to meet and how to meet that works for each party. Some may prefer a shorter, ad-hoc slot, and others may need a more predictable schedule.

Create learning opportunities:

In tandem with the above, aiming to foster a culture that supports development and encourages your managers to be growth-minded is optimal. Create an environment that supports open communication, collaboration, and a focus on learning. By showing your company values and supporting ongoing development, your managers will feel inspired and motivated to keep inspiring and motivating others. Implementing regular performance evaluations and opportunities for different feedback processes can help here.

Middle management is the backbone of any successful organisation.

Investing in middle managers is a strategic imperative for any company looking to build a solid foundation for success. By acknowledging their value, directing their focus, and equipping them with the necessary tools, resources, and support to succeed, you can uncover your middle managers’ potential as dynamic employees who drive performance, nurture talent, and lead the way for your business.

Our highly effective leadership development programmes have been tested across industries and are designed to embed the skills managers need to immediately and positively affect company culture, performance and employee engagement.

 

Learn more about all of our courses on offer, including our leadership development programmes and in-house training options here.

You can also get in touch with us to discuss the best opportunities for your organisation – we will be happy to help!

Author: Phil Kelly
An award-winning business owner and TED presenter, Phil lives and breaths performance. Having designed and delivered successful training packages across various industries worldwide, he now spends most of his time within business development and consulting. Phil Kelly