Why Managers Are So Frustrated
The challenge: Middle managers are frustrated and exhausted from having to spend their time on activities that don’t provide the most value. Instead of being free to coach and develop their team members, they report being mired in bureaucratic and individual contributor work.
How organizations can meet the challenge: Senior leaders can make a commitment to trust and empower their managers. They can strive to remove the administrative and frontline tasks that their managers currently perform so their focus is squarely on people management.
From Way Station to Destination
The challenge: The role of people management has been seriously undervalued at organizations that have failed to keep pace with changing realities. It is not enough for senior leaders to communicate directly with the front line. Real coaching and mentoring must occur for these messages to truly resonate.
Why middle managers are key to meeting the challenge: Only middle managers, in their pivotal position between the C-suite and the front line, are capable of acting as consistent coaches, navigators, and connectors in an increasingly complex business world that includes remote and hybrid work, contract employees, and ever-changing external demands. In the new world of work, human capital is much more important than financial capital.
What senior leaders can do to meet the challenge: Executives can make transforming their middle management ranks their number one priority. They can indicate that these are highly desirable roles; place their most qualified and valued people into management positions; provide training so their managers can excel; promote and reward their best managers within the role instead of up and out into more senior roles; and give them time to actually manage.
From Job Eliminator to Job Re-Imaginer
The challenge: As automation takes over more of the tasks formerly done by people, more people are in danger of losing their jobs, or being redeployed to the wrong jobs.
Why middle managers are key to meeting the challenge: Middle managers are the ones who can tease out what technology is best able to do; what machines can best do; and what remains for humans to do. Then, knowing the unique capabilities of their employees, they can rebundle—and thereby save—jobs so that they fit the new needs of the workplace.
What senior leaders can do to help: Senior leaders can work to rebundle the jobs of their managers before the managers themselves rebundle the jobs of their reports. Taking away the administrivia and individual contributor work that burdens so many of them will give managers the time and space to thoughtfully reimagine the new world of work.
From Transactions to Interactions
The challenge: With many workers having the upper hand in the labor market, the war for talent is fiercer than ever. Too many employers are responding with overly simplistic and tone-deaf solutions.
Why middle managers are key to meeting the challenge: Only managers can offer the day-to-day sense of purpose, belonging, and identity that many workers crave. And only they can craft the types of tailored—as opposed to one-size-fits-all—working arrangements that will aid in both recruitment and retention, increase diversity, and result in high-value work.
How senior leaders can help: Executives can resist the urge to exert standardized control from the top. Provided that they have chosen middle managers who are best suited to the role, trained them well, and given them time to focus on their people, they can trust their managers to come up with the recruiting and retention strategies that are right for their teams.
From Bureaucrat to Data Detective
The challenge: Too many organizations are neglecting, misusing, and misunderstanding data as they face major changes in the workplace. This is holding back hiring, retention, morale, diversity efforts, and a host of other areas.
Why middle managers are key to meeting the challenge: Middle managers are ideally placed to decide which factors are most important to measure, and then to use and translate the data so that they—and those above and below them—can make the best decisions. And they are best suited to act on those decisions, too.
How senior leaders can help: To create a data-driven culture from the top, executives can ensure that managers receive training to use, interpret, and translate data wisely.
From Preservers to Challengers of the Status Quo
The challenge: An obsolete view of human resources is causing the people who work there to be perceived as rule enforcers and paper-trail makers—and the department to be viewed as the place where performance evaluations happen.
Why middle managers are key to meeting the challenge: Managers, in partnership with HR, can take more responsibility for the hiring and career development of employees in their department rather than assuming that HR will take on that role, which it is not equipped to do at the individual level.
How senior leaders can help: Executives can make sure that the top human resource officer is at the table when major strategy decisions are made, and then direct that person to meet with the middle managers who will be responsible for executing the strategy in their units.
From Manager of Work to Manager of Inspiration
The challenge: Too many workplaces are stuck in a headquarters model, both literally and figuratively, where leaders see employees as full-time equivalents who need to do the work wherever and however the organization sees fit. This ignores the importance of aligning each individual worker’s purpose with corporate purpose as a way to improve productivity and engagement—and reduce attrition.
Why middle managers are key to meeting the challenge: Only middle managers can tailor the overall corporate purpose to the purpose of each team and its individual members. And only they can create customized hybrid work options that serve both the organization and its individual workers.
How senior leaders can help: Executives can make sure that middle managers have the time—and are rewarded for—matching employees to the work that best suits them, even if that means moving them to another department. Senior leaders must also loosen their grip on power and trust their middle managers to produce department-specific working arrangements that best serve their teams.