Middle Managers: Your Company’s Most Important Line of Defense in Crisis

Middle Managers

“Are we going to lose our jobs because of this coronavirus?” asked Kelly, an account executive with a tenure of 11 years.

“I — I don’t quite know,” replied Marla, Kelly’s practice manager. “The senior leadership team has said that there won’t be immediate layoffs, but we don’t know how long these shutdowns will last. Just keep working from home.”

There is no doubt that thousands of similar interactions have occurred in the past three weeks. These times are scary, and much is unknown. One thing you might not know is that the directors or senior leaders in your organization are not necessarily the glue that is keeping everyone together. It’s the middle managers.

The middle managers are who most employees approach for leadership and answers during times of crisis at work. It is commonly understood that C-suite executives decide on the company strategy, and the middle managers implement the strategy. While the upper-level leaders are busy figuring out what the right things to do are, the middle managers are figuring out how to do these things right. Middle managers are typically the most accessible leaders to employees, so it is imperative to place the right people in these roles.

The reality is that your company’s middle managers wear many hats, all of which are important during a crisis. These roles include that of an employee counselor, as middle managers often have intimate knowledge of the lives and emotions of their direct reports. Since change is distressing for many and too much change too soon can result in employee burnout or attrition, middle managers need skills to help employees cope. Emotional stability and calmness under pressure are crucial and help signal to employees that the company (and the employees) can make it through a crisis. However, keep in mind that too much emotional stability sometimes looks robotic to others and could make a manager seem as if he or she is ignoring the negative emotions in the group.

As mentioned previously, middle managers are usually spearheading the strategies that leadership decides on. This often requires middle managers to act as translators who must interpret the strategic language of the higher-ups and convey it in tactical language for direct reports so that they can implement plans. To be effective at this, they need to know how to manage “up” to superiors and “down” to direct reports. This requires knowing when to defer to the right leaders and how to push back on strategies that can’t be implemented quickly with limited resources. Middle managers also need to know how to inspire their teams, plan their actions strategically, and produce results.

Middle managers are usually experts who have been promoted from within. In most cases, they have been with their organizations for many years. This tenure and subject-matter expertise afford these leaders valuable knowledge that can help stabilize the business when times are rocky, providing insights into previous action plans, whether those plans yielded positive results, and why. Specific solutions are often difficult to formulate, and many people in middle management roles are hiring business and leadership coaches to help devise solutions.

Specific behavioral patterns can predict positive performance among managers. As the world’s leading expert on leadership and managerial success data, Hogan can assess employees for managerial potential, identifying where the skill gaps might exist. Hogan has a network of thousands of expert coaches and consultants who are certified to use our tools and are ready to help you and your business. Reach out to us if you need solutions for employee development or help finding and assessing qualified talent. We can help you make decisions on who to place in managerial roles so your business is prepared to weather any storm.