The corporate world has experienced a paradigm shift in recent years, with trends like employee engagement, diversity and inclusion, and fair work/life balances taking precedent over traditional financial and operational metrics.
This is because more and more business leaders are realizing that the employee experience has a direct impact on their bottom line, and is one of the key drivers of retention and loyalty. In turn, the most engaged employees are not only more engaged with their jobs, but are also more likely to stay with a company for longer.
Middle management employees are also very important for building a strong, engaged company culture. Research has shown that middle managers are the primary conduit through which employees are able to reach their leaders, and are often the most engaged employees in an organization.
In this article, we’ll explore why upskilling your middle management employees has a ripple effect throughout your entire organization, and key areas that companies can take action on today to build a more engaged, engaged workforce.
Why Upskilling Middle Management is Important
It should go without saying that middle management is the bridge between employees and business leaders. Middle management’s role is not only to help employees accomplish their tasks, but to also act as a conduit between corporate management and the employees.
Middle management employees are often the first to see, hear, and experience the needs of the employees and the company. They are also the most likely to come up with new ideas and solutions to help improve the customer experience.
Leadership starts at the top, and has a trickle-down effect on company culture. For example, many companies today have been positioning themselves as inclusive, diverse and caring organizations, but a controversial figurehead can easily tarnish an otherwise positive company culture.
To illustrate, consider the wide range of stories we’ve heard of CEOs who publicly display toxic behaviors, or contribute to a toxic workplace environment. Company leaders often rise to the top through ruthless and competitive tactics, and the same tactics often become synonymous with company culture.
Businessolver revealed in their 2021 State of Workplace Empathy report that 68% of CEOs fear they’ll lose their employees’ respect if they show empathy. This leads to awkward situations where a company presents itself as an inclusive organization, but it’s actually led by cold, hard business tactics.
In order to retain top talent, it’s important to instill a positive company culture, and it starts with the top down. Middle managers are an important part of the employee experience, as they’re more frequently in touch with employees, and serve as liaisons between executives and their employees.
To put it simply, upskilling your middle management is one of the best steps you can take to improve your employees’ engagement and overall job satisfaction across the board. However, it isn’t simply a matter of training your middle management in hard skills and the latest technology, but also developing their interpersonal skills.
So, how do you ensure that your middle management employees are equipped with the skills needed to manage their employees and the workflow?
Well, if you’re looking for the answer, you’re in the right place.
Soft skills to develop in middle management:
To begin upskilling your middle management, it’s important to focus on their soft skills first. Hard skills are equally important to upskill, but you don’t want to upskill a toxic middle manager so that it becomes more difficult to replace them.
Focusing on soft skills is more holistic. Instead of focusing on specific areas like Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint, you want to teach your middle management about how to deal with common social dynamics in the workplace.
Stephen, Co-Founder of BeamJobs points out that effective managers need to be able to understand and relate to employees, while ensuring that company initiatives are hit on time.
Leadership and Communication
Developing your employees’ leadership and communication skills is a critical first step in helping them connect and engage with their employees and customers. It’s also a critical skill to have when working with a new team member or client.
Middle management is often the primary manager for other employees and is therefore responsible for the overall performance of their team.
As the manager of other employees, it’s up to your middle management employee to manage conflict between team members. While HR is often in charge of this, it’s also an important skill that middle management employees need to be equipped with.
Empathy and emotional intelligence
In a diverse workplace, middle managers should strive to empathize with employee concerns, anxieties, and fears. They should also recognize the potential impact these feelings and concerns may have on productivity, employee engagement, and overall job satisfaction.
Creativity and agility
Your middle management employees need to be able to engage their teams in new, creative ways in order to meet business demands. With creativity comes flexibility and the ability to adapt to change. They should also be agile and able to flexibly deploy their management skills in order to efficiently and effectively meet the needs of their employees.
Recognize That Middle Managers are in a Squeezed Position
As mentioned earlier, middle management is in a delicate position. They’re often expected to deliver more with less, and they do so in a way that’s often unrecognized and underappreciated.
You’ll often see middle managers carrying out tasks they’re not really trained for, or overburdened with low priority tasks. For example, while middle managers often have their own projects to work on, they can become bogged down in requests for help from their employees, which ultimately takes up their time.
Middle managers need to be an example for their employees, and they need to be able to provide coaching to the rest of the team. By upskilling your middle managers, it has a direct trickle-down impact on their teams. A more competent manager will be able to give their employees the support they need, which ultimately results in happier, more productive employees.
Not only will they be able to do their job more effectively, but their increased levels of knowledge and experience will benefit the rest of the employees.
If you’re a leader, you need to give your middle management time to grow. Let them be leaders, but also give them the tools and training needed to be a successful manager.
Middle Managers Can Help You Build a Better Company Culture
Middle management is often the first point of contact with employees, and it’s the first place employees go to for help. The best way to build a good company culture is to make sure you’re taking care of your middle managers.
Middle managers are an essential part of your company’s workforce, so it’s important to provide them with the tools they need to succeed. By developing their interpersonal skills and giving them more freedom to make decisions, you’re improving your company culture and creating a more engaged, well-rounded workforce.
When your middle managers develop their interpersonal skills, such as empathy and critical listening, they’ll be able to more readily address employee concerns. This will help build trust within the company, which in turn can help with employee retention and employee morale.
While it can be difficult to upskill your middle management, it’s a step that’s essential to take. It will improve their job satisfaction and ensure they can perform their duties to the best of their abilities.
In the end, it’s about investing in your people, and if you do that, you’ll reap the rewards.