By Ketti Salemme
When you hear the phrase "business leader," who do you think of?
Maybe Elon Musk or Sheryl Sandberg or Mark Zuckerberg comes to mind. Or if you're a bit older, Jack Welch or Carly Fiorina. Leaders like these are seen as the rock stars of the business world, the visionaries who come up with innovative ideas and new strategies to crush the competition.
You probably don't think of a middle manager as a business leader. Middle managers aren't glamorous. Their smiling faces aren't on hardcover books stacked on the front table at Barnes & Noble. But I've got news for you: Managers are those anonymous people who are getting things done. When given the right tools, mid-level leaders have a major impact on your team. Here's how.
Managers are motivators. It turns out that managers are key players when it comes to employee engagement. A report by TINYpulse shows that employees led by middle managers are more satisfied at work in a number of ways. These employees are less likely to say that they'd leave their jobs for a 10 percent raise. They have a better work-life balance. And they're more likely to say that the company responds positively to their feedback.
"We've found an emerging trend with managers leading the way on employee engagement initiatives," says Neal McNamara, a researcher with TINYpulse and author of the report. "This makes a lot of sense—if a talented employee leaves, it's their direct supervisor who feels that loss the most."
High-quality managers make all the difference when it comes to their team's motivation. In fact, a Gallup poll found that managers are responsible for up to 70 percent of variance in employee engagement.
Managers are coordinators. C-suite executives design the company's vision and strategy. Mid-level managers translate that vision into action. The work they do—ensuring everyone knows their role and meets their deadlines—won't make them famous, but good managers successfully convert the C-suite's grand scheme into business reality.
Managers are often perceived as in-the-weeds implementers rather than creative thinkers. But managers think practically, and their ideas are ready to go.
Executives are perceived as "flying above the day-to-day minutiae," McNamara says, whereas mid-level leaders are "overseeing every project their team is involved in." This is no easy task. In a survey by Stay Out Front, 61 percent of respondents said their companies struggle with bridging the gap between strategy and execution. This is where talented managers are the most valuable.
Managers are productivity drivers. It's because managers bridge that gap that they have a tremendous impact on productivity. Gallup found that when organizations increase the number of exceptional managers on their team and improve employee engagement, they generate corporate earnings at a rate 147 percent higher than the competition.
These results are possible because good managers create a culture of accountability and make decisions based on increasing productivity. They maintain strong professional relationships with their employees and push their teams to do better.
Managers are innovators. The stereotype is that managers are defenders of the status quo, but in reality, they often have some of the best ideas. At one large telecommunications company, 80 percent of executive-designed initiatives didn't meet their goals. Compare that to 80 percent of manager-designed initiatives that succeeded, according to Harvard Business Review.
One reason companies don't get big-time results from their managers is that executives simply aren't listening. Managers are often perceived as in-the-weeds implementers rather than creative thinkers. But managers think practically, and their ideas are ready to go.
Managers are decision makers. Organizations that trust talented managers to tackle projects and implement strategy as they see fit will be successful. From onboarding and training through exit interviews, managers work closely with employees at every turn. They know their team's strengths and weaknesses and know which team member fits which role best. In the long run, mid-level managers can help your organization increase employee engagement, retention, and productivity.
So, what are the best ways to ensure middle managers are supported in their role?
Give them a voice in decision making. Leaders should give managers the autonomy to implement strategies and provide the technology tools needed to bring these strategies to life.
Hold regular one-on-one goal-alignment meetings. When leaders meet with their superiors frequently, transparency and communication increase and surprises are less likely to arise. This also provides a great opportunity to collect valuable feedback on a regular basis.
Provide managers with career development opportunities. Developing your talent is always important. By investing in your mid-level leaders, you show a commitment to the individual and team, as well as to the overall success of the organization.
Don't just talk the talk. Walk the walk and make sure that your middle managers are fully supported. The effects on the rest of the team will be clear.
Ketti Salemme is a former employee engagement expert and senior communications manager at TINYpulse, a firm that helps employers improve employee retention, engagement, and performance. Email: [email protected]