Why the Middle Level of Management is Key to a Great Culture

November 2nd, 2023 – SkillCycle

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What drives a strong organizational culture? People in the middle level of management in your company might contribute more than you realize. If your middle managers go overlooked, you may find it difficult to build the type of culture that leads to success.

“Middle managers have the most responsibility, manage the most resources, but face the most limitations to be able to do their jobs,” says Kristy McCann Flynn, CEO and Co-Founder of SkillCycle.

When you recognize the challenges middle managers face and their power to impact your culture, you can remove barriers to their success — and your company’s. And, you can make choices that give your middle managers the best chance to develop their teams and deliver solid results.

“When we talk about organizational culture, it’s imperative to realize that without middle management, there is no organization,” says McCann Flynn.

In this article on the importance of middle management, we’ll explore:

  • What is a middle manager?
  • Unique challenges faced by the middle level of management 
  • Why middle managers are vital to building team culture
  • How to improve organizational culture through your middle managers


What is a middle manager? 

Middle managers are responsible for many people and job functions and must juggle their day-to-day expectations along with those of their team. These managers act as a buffer between senior leaders and employees, keeping an eye on what’s happening on the front line, on the sales team, and within the ranks to keep operations running smoothly.

The middle level of management helps communicate the company vision and strategies into actionable goals and daily tasks for their teams. They work with employees to execute plans and drive company performance by keeping engagement and productivity high. 

Your middle managers are responsible for managing budgets, allocating resources, checking for compliance with company policies and plans, and ensuring work is executed as planned. It’s a fine balancing act.

“How they manage up, down, and even across trying to get things done with peers becomes an art form,” says McCann Flynn. “They’re trying to get everyone rowing in the same direction.” 

Sometimes, these managers are new to the role, having just been promoted themselves. This can put them in the delicate position of managing peers they used to work alongside. Others have been in their roles for some time and have had to navigate shifting priorities, shrinking budgets, and changing work structures. 


Unique challenges faced by the middle level of management

The people in your company’s middle level of management may feel like they’re in a tight spot. They’re managing people, time, and resources, but may not have the training and support they need to further develop their teams. They can spend a lot of hours managing and communicating without seeing the impact they have in your organization. 

“Companies often get stuck because their middle management is under supported,” says McCann Flynn. “Nine times out of ten, the progress and results they need to see within the organization are stuck with the people who are most underserved.”

Middle managers may also be hindered by an overall lack of resources. This often occurs when op-level executives feel pressure to carve away budgets and flatten organizational structures to continue operations in lean times. Still, workloads and expectations can stay the same in the face of these cuts. 

“There’s also a confidence issue,” says McCann Flynn. “What works with one employee might not work with another, so you make progress and then go back ten steps. Middle managers must be developed to effectively develop others on your team.” 

Other challenges include a limited amount of authority. If a manager can’t deal with issues as they arise or chat with an employee in the moment about a performance issue, the delays in getting to a solution can be frustrating. Without the ability to drive change, these managers can devote massive amounts of time and energy only to feel ineffective or unheard. 

What should your middle managers be focused on? Fostering talent is the most important role in an organization, according to McKinsey. Allowing middle management to be overwhelmed with unnecessary duties with far too few resources can waste their opportunities to grow the rest of your employees.


Why middle managers are vital to building team culture

While CEOs and executives influence company decisions and strategy, middle managers are the ones who have nearly constant communication with everyone on the team. Their influence on your entire staff cannot be overstated. 

How big an impact does middle management have on your organization? Managers are the most influential factor that determines team engagement and performance. Seventy percent of the variance in team engagement can be attributed to the manager, according to Gallup

“However a manager feels is how an employee is going to feel,” says McCann Flynn. “And that’s how culture gets defined. It’s how people feel, how they’re showing up at work, how they see their differences and diversity adding value.”  

When your middle managers are well developed and well supported, they can provide development and support to those they manage, helping fuel progress toward company goals.


How to improve organizational culture through your middle managers

Work is changing for many organizations, with a growing need to upskill and reskill employees. Over a billion jobs are liable to be dramatically transformed by technology over the next decade, sparking a reskilling revolution, according to the World Economic Forum.

Companies will balance remote, hybrid, and in-office work from their teams and strategic skill development to meet future needs. The middle managers in your organization are the ones who will be helping your workforce make those critical transitions. 

HR teams will need to hire managers who can become strong coaches and teachers, according to Gartner. Investments in training and development for this level of management will likely show solid returns as middle managers then coach and develop their teams to higher performance.

Deliberate and consistent support of middle management helps build a strong organizational culture you can rely on as you navigate future growth. 

Involving these managers in company strategy discussions and empowering their decision-making can lower frustration and help them feel more connected to company goals and successes. Offering recognition for the contributions of these managers can also go a long way to shift common feelings of being overlooked. 

“It’s imperative to equip your managers to be successful,” says McCann Flynn. “You want them to be able to take people from one level to the next and hit those goals without burnout.”

Our learning-first development platform can help unlock the potential in your middle management. Book a call to learn more.