Unleashing the Power of Middle Managers: Transforming Work Culture for Sustainable Success

Amidst the significant and often radical changes in today’s global workplaces, the field of management and day-to-day business operations seems to have stagnated in a time warp.

The emerging workforce, particularly the younger generations, seeks meaningful, flexible, and enjoyable work experiences. They no longer wish to be governed by command-and-control bosses; instead, they desire managers who can guide, coach, and engage them. These workers want managers who can tap into their talents, communicate effectively, and inspire them to reach their full potential.

Gallup, in their recent book “It’s the Manager,” presents the findings of their extensive study on the future of work. The book emphasizes the crucial role of middle managers in effectively managing remote workforces, building diverse teams, adapting to technological advancements, and keeping employees engaged. It’s an incredibly challenging task to achieve all these objectives while delivering consistent growth and returns to the company’s executives and shareholders.

Decades of Gallup’s global research consistently indicate that middle managers play a decisive role in determining an organization’s success or failure. My own experience corroborates this finding. By supporting, nurturing, training, and empowering competent managers who can identify each team member’s strengths and individuality, trust and buy-in can be obtained. This, in turn, leads to growth, employee retention, and the establishment of a positive, dynamic, and freedom-based culture.

According to Gallup, the quality of middle managers is the single most influential factor in a company’s long-term sustainable success, and I wholeheartedly agree. When managers are equipped to meet the challenges of the modern business landscape, possess effective coaching and empowerment skills, and bring unwavering determination and energy to the table, individuals, teams, and companies achieve high performance.

Ethan Mollick from Wharton recently conducted a large-scale analysis of the computer game industry and discovered that middle managers’ behavior accounted for 22.3% of the revenue variance. The Boston Consulting Group arrived at a similar conclusion after surveying thousands of employees about the drivers of success in their respective firms, referring to middle managers as a “neglected but critical group.”

The challenge lies in the lack of respect, guidance, and support provided to these vital middle managers. They find themselves in a precarious position, squeezed between top-level executives who formulate grand plans and employees who execute those plans. While C-suite executives focus on big-picture strategies, middle managers are responsible for translating those strategies into action and maintaining employee commitment, even under pressure to do more with fewer resources. Unfortunately, they often find themselves engaged in unsatisfying tasks, such as meeting deadlines, managing performance, and handling rosters, with little gratitude from recipients—similar to the challenges faced by parents. These managers constantly face pressure from above and below within the organization.

It is high time for a shift to occur. Middle managers serve as the primary bridge between the employing organization and frontline employees. They are the conveyors of the broader company strategy, providing context to each team member, motivating and embodying the company’s culture. Their role has become more critical than ever in ensuring ongoing success.

Here are four approaches to alleviate the burden on middle managers and transition from squeezing them to pleasing them:

Nurture them: Show managers that they are valued by including them in strategic discussions, occasionally inviting them to the executive table, helping them understand and translate strategic plans into actionable steps, and reducing their workload through effective delegation.
Unburden them: Review reporting lines, documents, and organizational structure to identify opportunities for reducing unnecessary upward and downward interactions. Eliminate redundant meetings and reports that do not contribute to progress and advancement.
Support them: Provide mentoring, coaching, or formal training to assist managers in transitioning effectively to their supervisory roles. Help them develop skills to build confidence, reframe their identity, communicate, provide feedback, and lead and develop people.
Empower them: Avoid micromanaging middle managers, which often leads to unnecessary role switching. Allow managers the freedom to implement strategies, engage their teams, and accomplish tasks in their preferred manner. Regularly provide encouragement and suggestions for continuous improvement.
Considering the rising workplace stress and anxiety statistics, it is crucial to understand the unique psychological pressures faced by middle managers. Conduct regular check-ins to assess their well-being, offer respect, encouragement, and the necessary time off when needed. Continually implement strategies to alleviate the burdens associated with their middle positions. You will undoubtedly reap the benefits of a healthier and more successful work environment.

Alexandria Joy, also known as ‘AJ,’ has dedicated over two decades to helping leaders and managers transform their organizational culture to achieve more with less. As the CEO of UQ Power, a biophiliac and culture scientist, she firmly believes that traditional approaches to culture change and organizational behavior are no longer effective. Instead, she advocates for a simple science that unlocks the potential of individuals within an organization.

AJ argues that organizations are an immensely underutilized resource in solving various human, economic, and environmental challenges. She is now on a mission to expedite the evolution of a more conscious world through the transformative power of culture.

In 2018, AJ made significant changes to her life and business, downsizing her name and embracing a minimalist lifestyle by living and traveling throughout Australia in a tiny house on wheels. She discovered that by focusing on mindset, decluttering, and eliminating chaos, individuals can feel lighter, freer, and more alive, enabling personal and cultural growth.