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 middle” and 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.