How Empowering Middle Management Can Improve Your Culture

Dec 13, 2023 4 Min Read
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The Untapped Influence of Middle Management

In discussions about workplace culture, there's a critical factor that often goes overlooked. While thousands of articles underscore the role of senior leadership in shaping culture, only a handful delve into the true powerhouse hidden in the middle ranks: middle management.

Middle managers, or the B-Suite as I prefer to call them, are the heartbeat of your organisation. Show me a staff member more interconnected than a middle manager—whether it's upward, downward, or across the organisation; middle managers are the glue that holds it all together. They function as architects of culture, and through their actions and decisions, they establish the prevailing atmosphere for the entire organisation.

Consider their role in building trust—an essential foundation for a thriving culture. B-Suite leaders act as conduits between senior management and frontline employees, uniquely positioned to either bolster or break trust. Their interactions, decision-making, and commitment to transparency play a crucial role in fostering trust. When trust is strong, collaboration and communication flourishes, morale soars, and performance thrives, creating a solid foundation for a culture where employees are engaged, motivated, and aligned. 

Conversely, when trust breaks down, it can lead to a range of problems, including disengagement and a loss of confidence in leadership. This situation can be quietly devastating. At first, you may not even realise it, wondering, 'What's happening with that team?' or 'Why has that project stalled?' However, beneath the surface, there may be a subtle erosion of trust and confidence, permeating through middle management, impacting employee wellbeing, teamwork, innovation, and ultimately, the bottom line.

Read:

Why We Need to Invest in our B-Suite Leaders

10 Ways to Level Up Your Leadership

Recognising the significance of the B-Suite, the Boston Consulting Group labels them the "forgotten but critical cohort." Let’s delve into why the B-Suite is anything but forgettable and why they play such a pivotal role in shaping culture.

Retention and engagement 

According to DDI, B-Suite leaders are 10 times more likely to foster high team engagement, six times more effective in retaining top talent, and five times better at preventing employee burnout. Investing in your B-Suite is essential if you want these outcomes. 

Changing expectations 

Accenture reports that only 1 in 6 workers feel connected to their colleagues.  Our own research at BoldHR indicates that 92% of respondents believe that leaders need to show more personal care. CEOs and senior leadership will struggle to fulfill these needs due to their broad responsibilities. However, B-Suite leaders, with their closer connection to teams, are uniquely positioned to bridge this gap. 

B-Suite leaders can address workload issues

The B-Suite is uniquely positioned to address workload issues. Most of us think of workload issues as simply ‘too much work’. However, Hart and Staveland's research identifies additional workload triggers: dullness, unrealistic expectations, disempowerment, and skill gaps. B-Suite leaders can address these challenges by aligning work with individual interests, instilling a sense of purpose, establishing realistic expectations, offering coaching, and advocating on behalf of their teams when workloads become overwhelming. The flow-on effects from a culture perspective are immense. 

Career progression 

Limited career progression opportunities can diminish employee commitment. Research from Culture Amp shows that in companies where career progression opportunities are limited (below-average), there is no discernible difference in the level of commitment between employees who have ‘good’ managers and those who have ‘bad’ managers. Therefore, creating career progression options becomes a critical priority for fostering a motivated workforce. B-Suite leaders, while unable to create new roles and pathways, can expose their teams to senior executives, provide opportunities for visibility, promotion and acting responsibilities, significantly boosting motivation and commitment.

Psychological safety 

Not knowing where you are going, if your work matters, or whether your job is safe is a huge culture ‘derailer’. B-Suite leaders play a crucial role in establishing psychological safety. Their attitudes, actions, communication, and support can alleviate concerns about the future, the importance of one’s work, and job security, fostering an environment where employees feel secured, valued, and empowered. 

In 2024, we can't discuss culture without recognising the pivotal role and untapped potential of the B-Suite. It's time to shift our focus away from senior leadership and start investing where it truly matters—your B-Suite leaders. They hold the keys to trust, career growth, connection, and care within your organisation. Ignoring their pivotal role could be costing you more than you think.

Discover: 

Supporting Managers in a Tug-of-War: Balancing Leader and Employee Expectations

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Edited by: Kiran Tuljaram

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Rebecca Houghton, author of ‘Impact: 10 Ways to Level up your Leadership’, is a Leadership and Talent Expert and founder of BoldHR. Rebecca builds B-Suite leaders with C-Suite impact by working at a strategic, team and individual level. For more information about Rebecca can help your team visit www.boldhr.com.au

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