Culture Building – The Middle Manager Perspective

Culture Building – The Middle Manager Perspective

Middle managers are often the work horses of any company. Because they have shared points of view with executive management and the non-exempt members of your team, they are often “stuck in the middle.”

Over the last several months I have had a series of conversations with middle managers across companies of all sizes. In these conversations there have been three common themes: stress is high, the work is not as rewarding as it used to be and they want to love their careers again. This begs the question, “How do we address their concerns?” If we choose listen, they will tell us.

Although some of the concerns have differed from company to company, there are four reoccurring topics: education, success, work environment, and value. It is important to understand the middle managers concerns because they are “stuck in the middleand speak for the workers of the company. Focusing on these four areas will generate support from management teams and help build a strong positive culture.


The majority of managers and workers agree that companies do an adequate job educating their workforce. Surprisingly, most employees desire more education for their jobs. Senior management must start thinking like millennials when it comes to education. Millennials have had the internet at their fingertips their entire life. They consume vast amounts of information in short periods of time. If they do not have it, they will actively search for it.  With regards to education, they want to understand the “why” behind their job. They no longer accept the “because I said so” approach to management.  They want to understand the inner workings of the decision-making process so they can better participate in it.  Several recent studies show that this generation of workers has a lack of reverence or trust in authority.  Failing to educate on the “why” will exacerbate this lack of trust and cause serious damage to the company culture.


Throughout this series defining success has been among the most common topics. That said, it should be no surprise success was top of mind for nearly 100% of these managers. What may surprise executives most is that managers are not feeling very successful. The driving forces behind this are decreased customer traffic and regulatory reform. Organizations must take a step back and reassess what success in the future will look like and redefine it for the management teams. The strenuous regulatory environment is here to stay for the foreseeable future. In many businesses traffic volumes will continue to decline due to our customers’ usage of technology. Once the vision of success is clear the team must be educated in both word and defined behaviors.


Most middle managers view environment as something more than how the work place looks or feels. For them it is more introspective, coming down to one word: authority. Managers want the authority, within limits, to make decisions for their teams and customers. They want the authority to create a more dynamic and exciting work place. 

Managers believe helping customers is paramount to success and want the authority to do so.  Most managers understand they have the authority to make decisions. That said, the harsh regulatory or managerial environment has taken its toll on how they view this authority and fear reprisal for its usage. Restoration of authority will go a long way to improving company culture.


The teams’ idea of value is having a positive impact as a person and worker. This generation of workers sees value as something more intrinsic rather than monetary. This generation of middle managers has a strong desire to have a positive impact on their company, community, and customers. For this group the job is more than just making money.  They want to understand and see the positive impact of their work on others. 

It is clear that the millennial middle managers have grown up in the greatest era of wealth ever known to mankind and because of this they sometimes yawn at profits. Companies that can link their profit to a positive impact on the community and its customers often have strong positive cultures.  

In summary, the middle manager today is the heartbeat of the culture. Take the time to listen to them with an open mind. Building a strong middle management team is the present and the future of the company. Because they are workers, managers and leaders, their perspective on the culture is based on the day-to-day realities of the workplace.

If you would like to read our three previous posts on culture building your can follow these links: What is the “Culture Building” Talk All About?, Building a Strong Company Culture and Identifying and Defining Successful Cultural Behavior.


Identifying and Defining Successful Cultural Behavior

Identifying and Defining Successful Cultural Behavior

This article is part three in the series on “Culture Building”. It is hoped that this will offer an effective guide to culture building. The previous articles discussed the reasons to build strong internal culture, its positive effects and the steps to building a strong culture. The links are available here: “What is the “Culture Building” Talk All About?” and Building a Strong Company Culture.

This will article focus on how to identify and define successful behavior inside a culture. Helping your team understand what is and what is not successful will ease the process of building a strong internal culture.

Webster defines behavior as: the way a person or animal acts or behaves, the manner of conducting oneself, the response of an individual, group, or species to its environment.

The definition of behavior in a culture is the way your employee responds to the company culture. This response is either positive or negative, depending on how the employee views the culture, position and the company. For example, an employee who does not believe in the company’s culture might overstep boundaries or ignore defined protocol. Employees who believe in the culture will go the extra mile to achieve company success.

Great leaders recognize we cannot change people. We can only change how we interact and manage them to maximize productivity in a positive motivating culture. We can build and motivate appropriate behavior and eliminate unacceptable behavior. Thus, identifying good behavior is paramount to success in a culture. This will allow the company to reward success more effectively and create repeatable positive behaviors inside the company culture.

How do we identify good behavior? There are two sets of identifiable behaviors. One is the behavior that is readily apparent in team members who are good employees. These behaviors will usually spring from core values and can be defined in simple day to day actions.

For example: Attendance, appropriate greetings, team work, mutual respect, organization, etc…

It is important to note that we must specifically define behaviors by stating what, when, and how often.

“Team members must arrive at work five minutes prior to their scheduled start time.”

The second set of behaviors are those that impact productivity. These are less easily identified. Behaviors that impact productivity are often specific skills that may change based on an employee’s position in a company. This will require more in-depth assessments and measurements. These are accomplished through detailed observations, interviews and outcome based productivity measures.

Once the correct behaviors are identified the real work begins: defining success for the team. There are several moving parts that define success. They include:

  • Behavior based job descriptions
  • Team minimum standards
  • Annual evaluations
  • Specific written goals
  • Formal reward and recognition
  • Informal reward and recognition
  • Career promotions

Defining success is more than just putting in writing what is successful. Management must reinforce this definition of success by recognizing and promoting team members that successfully execute the defined behaviors. Although this may seem simple it is crucial to building your company’s culture. Your efforts can be undermined by promoting and rewarding employees that do not exhibit the desired behaviors of your culture. Thus, your regular actions and interactions will over time define success in your company.

A positive motivating culture is with the reach of every company. It starts with your actions. 

Building a Strong Company Culture

Building a Strong Culture

This is part two in a seriess on “Culture Building”. It is hoped that this will offer an effective guide to culture building. The previous article discussed the reasons to build a strong company culture and its positive effects. Here is the link: “What is the “Culture Building” Talk All About?”

This article will explore the necessary steps in building and maintaining your company’s culture. Once it has been defined, communication, training and monitoring will ensure that the culture will grow and prosper. All four steps are crucial elements in building a strong culture.

The old axiom “You do not know what you do not know” can be effectively applied to communication within a company.  Most companies need to significantly improve communication. Tonya Slawinski, Ph.D., president of Support Solutions Inc., stresses the importance of communication in an effective working environment.

“Communication is an ongoing process rather than a static event,” says Slawinski. “Employees have a high tolerance for change if kept in the loop. When communication breaks down, rumors run rampant and will directly impact productivity, focus and ultimately the finances of the company.”

The National Business Research Institute released a study in March 2014 that identified poor or nonexistent communication as the number one complaint from employees in the workplace. Because of heavy­ business regulation and constantly changing customer behavior, businesses must improve their company communication or they will be unable to adapt to their evolving industry.

Our teams require messages to be communicated in multiple forms in order to grow in understanding and for the message to take root. Reinforced messages lead to proactive action.

Communication must be both verbal and written. Fortunately, most organizations have at their fingertips the necessary tools needed to improve communication quickly and easily: people and technology. A frequently missed component of communication is assigning a team member responsibility to manage companywide cultural communication.

Structured plans for communicating the culture should include:

  • On-site Executive Management visits
  • Scheduled communication
  • Training
  • New team member orientation
  • Newsletters
  • Regularly scheduled email updates
  • Planned messages for team meetings
  • Webinar updates

Without a clear plan, communication efforts will fall short. An integral part of the plan is teaching the team how to execute the mission, vision and values of the company.

Employers can no longer assume their team believes or understands how to achieve the mission, vision and values. Each member of the team comes to work with a history that could conflict with the company’s goals. Even experienced employees need training. The team must be instructed on how to become successful within the defined company culture.

The Social Research and Demonstration Corporation released a study in August of 2015 concluding that there is an average 91% retention rate among well-trained team members. Furthermore, for each retained employee the company achieves on average a $2,200 increase in incremental revenues.

The numbers speak for themselves.

The focus of the training should be on technical and soft skills. Although on-the-job training is cost effective, it tends to perpetuate bad habits or outdated procedures that lead to internal problems. Banks must develop a skills-based training plan by job position.

Soft skills are a frequently overlooked area of training. Most cultural development training programs will include soft skills.  Below is a list of training that will help build a positive culture:

  • Defining the Company’s Culture
  • Team Building
  • Interpersonal Communication
  • Leadership Skills – Coaching and Motivation
  • Exemplary Customer Service – Reactive vs. Proactive
  • Relationship Building
  • Business Etiquette

Training is an ongoing process. Do not forget that the team is the company’s most valuable resource. Invest in the team and they will give a solid return on the company’s investment.

The last piece to the puzzle is a monitoring progress. Consider the management phrase, “Inspect what you expect.” This has never been more relevant. Ideal behavior and actions are defined through communication and training. Monitoring will allow the reinforcement of good behavior and redirect behavior that does not fit in the culture.

Monitoring should come from an optimistic point of view. If the company monitors from a “Got You!” point of view, it will create a negative environment, increase employee turnover and decrease employee action. No member of the team wants to look over their shoulder all the time.

Monitoring takes two primary forms: inspections and critical measurements.

Key Elements of Inspections:

  • Conducted on-site; planned in advance
  • Surprise visits rewarding good behavior
  • All members of management required to participate
  • Always positive and upbeat

Types of Critical Measurements:

  • Customer Retention
  • Employee Retention
  • Accuracy over Errors
  • Employee Surveys
  • Customer Surveys
  • Management Assessments

Building an inspection process will help the team members know exactly what is expected of them by continuously defining and reinforcing the vision of success.

In conclusion, building and maintaining the culture requires a focused effort. The goal is to create an enjoyable and productive work environment for all team members and draw customers to your company. The end result will generate increased revenue and an uptick in employee retention.

What is the “Culture Building” Talk All About?

What is the “Culture Building” Talk All About?

Today everyone is talking about building strong organizational cultures. This is the first in a series of articles and created in an effort to help businesses today understand the concept and implementation of culture building. Hopefully they will aid you in the process of understanding “culture” and how to build a successful one.

What is culture? Merriam Webster defines culture as: ‘The act of, or any labor or means employed for, training, disciplining, or refining the moral and intellectual nature of man; as, the culture of the mind.’

Many thoughts come to mind when considering culture building. Is your business by practice and regulation held to a higher moral and intellectual standard. It is my belief that small and medium sized businesses are responsible for the high standard of living enjoyed in the communities they serve.

Ask yourself these questions: Does your team understand this? Has a positive culture, allowing your company to grow and prosper, been propagated? What does this look like? How is it maintained?

Like it or not, your organization has a culture. If your culture has not been defined, it has developed on its own.

Why spend the time and effort to build a culture your business? To quote Kemmons Wilson, Founder of Holiday Inn Hotels, “Get ahead of change or change will get ahead of you.”

Our business climate is changing at a rapid pace due to significant increases in regulations, shifting client behavior, evolution in workforce thought and employee loyalty.

A poorly defined culture increases the employee turnover rate. The national average for employee turnover as sited by the 2012 Federal Labor Force Statistics is 14.1%. If your company’s turnover rate is higher, your culture may merit review.

The top four causes of employee turnover are:

  • Dissatisfaction with pay
  • Boredom
  • Lack of engagement
  • A poorly managed team

Each points to cultural issues inside an organization.

Business Week sited a 2012 study indicating that the lack of employee engagement cost business’s $300 billion in profits a year. How much is it costing your company? Lack of employee engagement is an organizational cultural issue.

A poorly defined culture will also affect your companies’ ability to retain clients. Building a positive productive culture will improve the overall client retention rate.

The top six reasons clients leave are:

  • Taking too long to resolve an issue
  • Promises aren’t kept (over promising, under delivering)
  • Being treated rudely or with suspicion
  • Being bounced from person to person and having to repeat the problem each time
  • Having to check several times to see if an issue is resolved
  • Being left in “support limbo,” i.e. not knowing what, if anything, has been done to resolve the issue

Does the culture have a positive focus on the client? Even a five percent improvement in client retention can significantly improve your bottom line.

So, what next? To site a favorite quote of mine from an unknown source: “An opportunist meets the wolf at the door and shows up the next day in a fur coat.” Be an opportunist. Recognize the changing environment. Go for the fur coat. There is no time to wring one’s hands over the changing work environment. Now is the time to act.

What are some simple steps to get started? The most important step is to define your culture in words and deed. This is more than having a simple one or two sentence mission statement. Defining a culture includes mission, vision and core values which define behaviors for management and team. These values and behaviors are non-negotiable.

Unfortunately, there may be members of yout team or management that may choose to not live up to these values. At some point hard decisions may have to be made for those who choose  not to live up to the values of the company.

Your core values may include, but are not limited to:

  • Treat all clients and team mates with respect and honor.
  • Innovative, Flexible, and Forward Thinking.
  • Act with integrity at all times.
  • Trust is our Foundation.

Once the culture is defined through its mission, vision and values, it must be monitored closely. Reward and recognize the actions that exemplify the ideal culture of the company. This will require a variety of measurement forms and regular reinforcement from the highest levels of executive management. An easy first action is for the executive management team to begin attending departmental and branch meetings.

In closing, return the “fun” back to your working environment. More time is spent with your team than with family on a daily basis. Ask the team how to create a more fun and exciting working environment. Be willing to listen and act on ideas.