Engage Your Middle Managers

When you conduct an employee engagement survey, what do you consider success? A percentage of participation? Actionable data? Both of those can be predictive measures of success. However, if you really want to make an impact on your employee engagement, and ultimately your organization, the most important variable is the ability to take action based on what you learn.

Identifying and carrying through on even just one organizational change as a result of what you learned in the employee engagement survey goes a long way toward making your organization talent focused. As you may know, talent-focused organizations experience more success in every metric–from employee engagement to profitability.

To position your company to embrace any business changes, you’ll need to rely on an important group: middle managers.

Your Launchpad for Actionable Change: Middle Managers 

People often utter the words “middle manager” disparagingly. And, middle managers are often the first to go in a downsizing. Nevertheless, that runs in direct opposition to the fact that strong middle management is essential to a high-performing company.

Leadership and talent expert Meghan Brio posits that organizational change does not come from senior leadership, but instead the company’s corp of middle managers.

Middle managers are on the frontlines to directly interact with employees on a daily basis. They play a key role in every aspect of your business from project management to coaching individual performance and fostering the work environment. While it’s important to have vision from leadership, managers are better equipped to carry through on changes because they:

  1. Often have longer tenure
  2. Are most familiar with details of daily operations
  3. Have networks of relationships across the organization
  4. Understand how the organization actually works
  5. Can best translate generic visions into language and concepts that are meaningful to employees

Middle Managers’ Unique Point of View

Middle managers are people leaders who deal with change in more ways that any other group. As such, they are experts at considering the following for every topic:

  1. The company’s needs
  2. Their team’s needs
  3. How they’ll support individuals on their team
  4. Their own individual needs

Richard Newton, author of Managing Your Team Through Change, asserts that this view of all sides creates a tension for middle managers as they struggle to balance concerns at all four levels. This leaves them feeling pulled in multiple directions and makes it difficult for them to act. If provided with the correct expectations, tools and support, these middle managers can succeed and help change your organization for the better.

The Action Planning Process 

Our recommended approach to using the results of your employee engagement survey involves a top-down (senior leadership) and middle-out (managers) approach. Here are five of the core steps we typically suggest.

  1. Senior leadership reviews the feedback and considers it alongside the company’s short- and long-term goals. They identify no more than five areas for action for the year.
  2. Senior leadership, often alongside Human Resources, shares survey discoveries and key data with middle/people managers. They should also request input from managers on what they see as the priorities.
  3. Based on the feedback from middle managers, senior leadership finalizes the areas for action and shares the action plan with managers.
  4. Managers translate the survey results and action plan into language their employees can understand and shares it with their team members.
  5. Managers begin the work of implementing the change(s) and report back to leadership on progress and feedback.

Throughout the year, senior leadership continues to connect with managers, at least quarterly, in order to hear progress updates, challenges and success stories.

Download this infographic for a look at the essential steps.

5 Steps to Survey Action Planning

Readying Middle Managers to Follow Through on an Engagement Action Plan

At the conclusion of an employee engagement survey, there are some core steps to follow to get managers involved in the process.

1. Give managers the opportunity to provide input

Here are some actions you can allow managers to take to engage them into sharing feedback:

  1. Participate in focus groups on specific topics
  2. Help narrow down the plan into steps that can actually be completed within the current organization
  3. Prioritize action plans and specific steps in the plan
  4. Suggest action to take
  5. Provide feedback on what they’re hearing and seeing from employees

If you give managers the opportunity to provide input, you may find that they complain. Be sure to recognize the validity of their concerns and empower them to make suggestions on solutions to what they see as problems. Keep in mind that middle managers are constantly managing change and have experienced being on the hook for any failures.

3. Give them tools to carry out actions 

Middle managers will be living the changes and then sustaining them. They’ll need tools to support them and their ability to motivate employees. Some examples that support managers and work well include:

  1. Training or coaching
  2. Toolkits of materials such as talking points, frequently asked questions and step-by-step guidance
  3. Intranet resource centers or hubs

It’s also imperative to keep the lines of communication open through:

  1. Regular meetings/calls to discuss the timeline, questions and progress
  2. Enterprise social media solutions that enable managers to communicate with each other about what needs to be done and what’s working

4. Build in accountability  

Just like any other initiative, the potential for success is magnified if it is tied directly to accountability for everyone that needs to take action. It’s important to create accountability, not just for managers, but also for leaders and employees.

One way to do so is to make the required actions a part of the goals and development planning process. Also, determine regular check-in intervals to ensure that progress is being made.

In closing, since middle managers are critical influencers embedded within your business, they see firsthand how the change affects the workings of the business and their team. Adequately preparing managers by using an organized, consistent and fluent process to keep them engaged will facilitate the forward momentum of any plan.

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