Developing the secret powers of middle managers

13 / 06 / 23 - 5 minute read

Middle managers are the glue of any organisation. These individuals possess skills and abilities that often make them the silent heroes within the corporate world. Let’s give them their day.

Like the character in any superhero movie, middle managers tend to work quietly away at their desks. But behind the scenes, they wield immense powers that many around them can mistakenly overlook.

It’s also clear that leadership has got a lot harder over the past couple years, and middle managers have been facing that challenge head on. They are balancing increased pressure for results alongside the escalating requirements to support employees who are struggling with wellbeing.  Middle managers experience unique tensions between groups, demands and expectations.

Unsure? Consider the problem of disengaged employees – a challenge all companies wrestle with. Yet, the greatest day-to-day impact on any such employee will not be leadership at HQ, or Human Resources. Instead, it is an engaged middle manager that can most positively impact the employee experience.

While middle managers don’t set company strategy, they are the ones that enable it. They translate it into action. And every day, their team looks to them for support, advice and direction. So middle managers play an outsized role in setting the company’s tone and ensuring smooth day-to-day operations. It is a tough gig and one that managers are often expected to pull off without the resources needed to do the job. Gone are the days when organisations found themselves with an excess of time and resources. Yet, many achieve far more than what would seem possible. 

“Many organisations take their middle managers for granted, but they are underestimating one of their most valuable assets,” says Charlotte Lange, Senior HR Business Partner at PATRIZIA. “Middle managers are the ones that underpin the vision of senior management by translating their goals into tangible tasks. They motivate and empower individuals, ensuring they have the necessary resources, skills, and knowledge to achieve their goals. They are also responsible for overseeing the progress of their teams, whilst seeking support and buy-in from organisational leaders.”

New superpowers needed for the modern office

So, middle managers can possess extraordinary powers, and companies should encourage them to use them more. But several challenges are like Krypton draining their powers.

According to the 2022 McKinsey Global Survey, middle managers spend almost 50% of their time on non-managerial tasks. This includes 18% on administrative work and 31% of individual-contributor work. Talent and people management and strategy-focused work - the critical function of managers - comprise only 50%. Lack of time and value recognition by the organisation is often cited as the most common reasons why middle managers spend less time than they want on strategy-focused and talent and people management work.

Second, with the impact of New Work, well-being and equity, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) programmes, middle managers must acquire effective new powers. According to the People at Work 2022 report from ADP Research Institute, 64% of the global workforce now expect the possibility to be able to regularly work from home. So hybrid work appears to be here to stay.

To ensure this works, middle managers need to develop effective communication channels for collaboration and teamwork, ensuring employees work towards common goals. They also need to adapt their management style to meet the needs of hybrid workers, providing the support and guidance they need to be successful.

The Age of new work

New Work relates to the next major theme of the modern workplace: well-being, balance and collaboration.  However, since the pandemic, almost 7 in 10 employees (67%) say they suffer from stress at work at least once a week, while 1 in 7 (15%) feel stressed daily. Managers are often the first to notice changes in employee behaviour, so they need the knowledge and tools to recognise the signs of mental health struggles. They must also learn how to engage with team members in a well-being conversation to support mental health.

ED&I is the other area where managers need to develop new powers. With 71% of the workforce saying that they would consider looking for another job if there was no policy in place in their company, organisations can no longer ignore the importance of ED&I. Creating an equitable, diverse and inclusive working environment has become a key management skill.

“Promoting ED&I is not any one person’s role, but managers and indeed all of us play a pivotal role in setting the tone for the organisation and ensuring that everyone feels included, represented and valued,” says Charlotte.

However, according to Harvard Business Review, many managers struggle to promote ED&I in their teams effectively. The report found that while 96% of managers believe diversity and inclusion are important, only 40% feel confident managing a diverse team.

Developing middle managers at PATRIZIA

At PATRIZIA, we recognize the set of unique and complex challenges middle managers face in their day-to-day and understand how important it is to provide them with ongoing development opportunities and a community of peers they can rely on. To this end, we have recently dedicated an eight-week development programme for new managers called RISE, which supports first-time people managers or those who have recently started as a manager within the company.

RISE is a combination of training sessions focused on three modules: Managing Yourself, Managing Others and Community Building. Through internal HR training, peer-to-peer coaching sessions, external training and self-paced learning, participants get a deep dive into key leadership topics such as performance enablement, development planning, feedback conversations and change leadership.

Can-Stéphane Kohl, Associate Director in the Workplace & Devices team at PATRIZIA, and who also participated in the first edition of RISE last year, comments: “RISE was a great way for me to network with colleagues from multiple locations and to realize that you are not alone in some of the challenges you are facing as a manager. I especially enjoyed the peer-to-peer sessions and learned useful methods that I can easily apply in my day-to-day.”

PATRIZIA also offers dedicated leadership training through its in-house PATRIZIA Academy managers’ training sessions. In the Academy, external experts on new work, well-being and ED&I provide ongoing training to help all managers at PATRIZIA to become inspiring, sustainable and inclusive leaders.

The company also provides training for Mental Health First Aiders.At the end of 2022, 25 PATRIZIAns (managers and employees) attended a 12-hour training to learn about the most common mental health issues that can affect individuals at work and how to spot the signs when someone is struggling with mental health.

“I think we can profoundly reshape the daily work of middle managers,” says Charlotte. “Middle managers are key to the successful implementation of any organisation´s strategy and play a critical role in developing and nurturing talent. To ensure managers feel motivated and empowered to drive their companies forward, organisations need to raise their game with acknowledging their value, particularly with talent focused initiatives, while providing them with the necessary training and support along the way.”

Emphasizing on the importance of strategy-focused and people management work instead of individual-contributor and administrative work has never been more critical if organisations want to set their middle managers for success and unleash their full potential. Let us refocus on what matters most and give the opportunity to middle managers to add real value to their organisations.

Can-Stéphane Kohl, Associate Director in the Workplace & Devices team at PATRIZIA