The American workforce is changing. Historically, driven by command and control, the new workforce won’t settle for an iron fist. The new cross-cultural and cross generational workplace is already evolving to a more inclusive landscape where every voice needs an opportunity to be heard. The most useful catalyst for adapting to this change might well be the increased empowerment of middle managers.
While strong senior leadership is very important, your company’s middle managers are your soldiers on the front lines, dealing with the day-to-day aspects of your business. They have more interaction with employees, so it would be logical to assume they have the best and most helpful insights. In earlier years, companies assumed that job title directly correlated with the employee's ability to produce the next big idea. But it’s been proven time and time again that diversity of thought is the real idea generator. Innovation most often comes from the people involved in the front line aspects of the business.
Research has consistently shown that employees are more comfortable voicing opinions and concerns with mid-level management, and when their input is heard, are more likely to be engaged and motivated. In fact, as the level of management that is most closely in touch with every employee in your business, your managers are the conduit for communication and recognition.
They are the representatives of your leadership team that employees see and hear from daily, so middle managers are the most capable of assessing employee needs. Their face-to-face feedback signals what works and what doesn’t, what makes employees happy and what helps them thrive. So bringing middle managers into the relationship management aspects of your business will result in better business outcomes.
You also need to heavily involve middle managers in collaborative think sessions. Imagine sitting next to your executives in the boardroom. You have all of these people from similar walks of life gathered together in an attempt to stumble upon the next big idea. But most likely, all have similar thought processes.
In order to arrive at creative solutions that propel your business forward, you need to empower people who provide different perspectives. Think of your middle management team as a number of fresh pairs of eyes that can jumpstart and supercharge innovation.
Following are three tips to create a workplace that fosters engagement of your company’s middle management:
- Retire command-and-control, ivory tower management. Certain management practices tend to stifle, rather than drive, productivity and innovation. When all decisions are made at the highest levels, for example, mid-level managers and employees might feel like their opinions and ideas are being controlled rather than heard.
Creating an environment in which everyone has the freedom and comfort to think and approach problems in their own way can give employees a sense of belonging that will lead to better creativity and engagement across the company.
- Share your strategy with middle managers. Sharing your strategy with employees not gives them perspective about how their efforts fit into the big picture. It also drives organizational success and increases the odds that they will share their unique insights and ideas with you.
- Ask for middle management input. Include them! If you rely entirely on a handful of managers and top executives to come up with great ideas, you’re missing the brainpower of the majority of the workplace. These are the people on the ground, the ones who will implement any new strategy your organization pursues, the ones who have seen firsthand what works and what doesn’t.
In increasingly diverse workplaces going forward, winning organizations will grasp the enormous value of engaging middle managers as the catalyst for significant success.