The Great Manager Sandwich
How the Great Resignation has transformed the managers’ role
The recent Work Trend Index 2022 study by Microsoft is a great resource for all leaders out there trying to solve the hybrid work puzzle. However, of the five key trends highlighted by the study, the one that really stood out for me personally was that “managers feel wedged between leadership and employee expectations.” A cynic friend laughed when I mentioned this to her – when have managers not felt sandwiched! Alright, so this may not be a new trend but maybe this statistic calls for us to sit up and take notice of the magnitude of the problem – a whopping 54% of managers responded in the study that they felt leadership was out of touch with the employees. What a transition from just a few months ago when Friday coffee chats and virtual town-halls became a go-to guide for leaders to connect with the employees closely. In fact, the leaders were so cued into the frontline challenges and reached out to all employees so often, that the very role of middle-level managers started to get questioned.
So, what has changed between the summer of 2021 and the spring of 2022? Indeed, the Great Resignation comes to mind. Also, with two years completed in this new normal, leaders are now keen to bring the focus back to the bottom line and productivity. Employees, on the other hand, have moved on by prioritising their mental health and wellness. In the midst of this, managers could feel stuck trying to balance business results with employee expectations. However, seen differently, it’s a huge opportunity for managers to cement their roles within organisations, as coaches and champions of sustainable engagement. The role of mid-level managers is open to massive disruption.
Like Janus – the mythical Roman god of doors and gateways depicted with two opposing faces – the middle-level manager of today has to empathise with both the leadership and the employee in order to unlock opportunities. For those of us walking this critical tight-rope, here are some of the ways that can help us navigate the sticky mid-level sandwich better:
1. Be the champion coach
There’s no more shying away from coaching for managers. I have come across managers who have been great at delivering results and understand their functional expertise perfectly. However, coaching is not about creating clones of oneself, right? It is not about ‘teaching’ someone how to make the perfect sales pitch, for example. It is about helping your team members explore and identify the ‘right’ sales pitch – what works best for them to get results. This calls for deep empathy, simplifying the process of learning, and listening. When managers become coaches, they often share stories of their journey. Storytelling is a great coaching tool, but don’t forget to listen more than you share as a coach.
2. Be a key cultural anchor
I believe that building a strong, single culture is the most important contribution of the managerial layer. As an organisation grows, the leadership gets removed from the front-line employees. In order that the vision of the founders is not diluted by the time it reaches the last mile, the managerial cadre upholds and lives the cultural tenets. Great managers ensure that sub-cultures do not crop up. Every team meeting, every communication, and every process embeds the unspoken organisational culture – and it is the managers who are the custodians of these elements. This role becomes more pronounced in a remote/ hybrid work environment. If an employee feels a disconnect in the spoken and written word versus what they experience in their day-to-day operations, their reasons to move on just add up. Modern managers play a key role in holding together their teams towards a common vision – pandemics and great resignations withstanding!
3. Be the problem solver
By leveraging their functional expertise along with the line of sight they have of the business, managers are in a unique position to problem solve complex problems. Leaders rely on their managers for ground-level information to make decisions. Critical thinking can help mid-level managers discern the right information that is needed for leadership decision making, as well as the other way around – how to slice and dice the leadership decisions for their teams so it makes actionable sense to them.
The one common thread that runs between the above three roles is the ability to hold a mirror to both the leadership and the team members. Managers need to get out of their traditional moulds of receiving strategic business plans and transmitting them to their teams. By adding an additional layer of empathy to the plans, they will create immense value for the business and the employees alike.