Employee Engagement

Mid-Level Managers – The Real Linchpin to Employee Engagement Post Recession

globoforcelogoThe following is a guest post from Derek Irvine, Head of Strategic Consulting and CMO, Globoforce – a leading worldwide provider of global strategic recognition solutions.   In addition to their main website they can also be found on twitter, facebooklinkedin and have a well regarded blog.


As the economy begins to show more signs of recovery, many company leaders are scrambling to repair the damage done to employee state of mind – survivor’s guilt, double the workload (or more), no raises, pay cuts, a managerial attitude of “Just be grateful you have a job.”

HCI published research last month showing the impact of all of this on mid-level managers and their linchpin role in helping their organizations thrive once again in the recovery. Some scary statistics from the findings in “Mid-Level Managers: The Bane and Salvation of Organizations” reveal the current state of mind:

  • Only 14% of respondents [senior human resources executives] see their mid-levels as fully engaged
  • 46% of respondents think their mid-levels are either noticeably or substantially less engaged than before the Great Recession began
  • 75% of respondents are concerned or very concerned about retaining high performing mid-levels in the Post Great Recession environment
  • Less than 10% see the programs they craft as very effective in the eyes of mid-level managers

Why is this so important? Mid-level managers are the critical communicators of changing company strategy and objectives to the vast majority of employees who do the day to day work of the organization. And if they don’t know what or how to communicate, don’t understand the importance of communicating the changes, or simply just don’t care anymore, then no discernable change will be made across the organization to adjust to the changing market or to company’s changing needs.

HCI’s research identified three key problems for the mid-level managers:

  1. Lack of alignment– they don’t know how to translate “their companies’ strategic goals into concrete ‘get it done’ actions.”
  2. Unable or unwilling to lead boldly – They are too tired and too broken down by the fallout from the recession to want to put their neck on the line, assuming it’s easier and safer to stick with the status quo.
  3. Not able to motivate direct reports – With no motivation themselves to change or lead change, mid-levels simply do not have the energy or the wherewithal to motivate those below them.

So what are HR’s challenges in dealing with this current state of mid-level managers:

  1. HR respondents show little or no confidence in their companies’ ability to meet performance goals in the short or long term unless the mindset of the mid-level manager changes.
  2. HR respondents do not think the programs they create to help mid-levels actually succeed.

The solution goes beyond training to provide a new enabling technology to help mid-level managers bring their employees into alignment with changing company objectives, lead boldly and motivate their direct reports. That tool is strategic recognition.

The power of strategic recognition lies in its ability to positively and frequently reinforce precisely those actions and behaviors the company has determined are necessary to achieve changed strategic objectives. In structuring strategic recognition, HR must:

  1. Clearly define the values and behaviors needed from employees to meet changed objectives and then use only these values and objectives as reasons for recognition across the organization
  2. Train managers on the company’s philosophy of recognition, which should be frequent and timely acknowledgement of desired actions and behaviors by themselves and between employees directly. Such frequent and timely recognition is critical to ensuring employees understand precisely what actions were worthy of recognition as well as reinforce their desire to repeat them.
  3. Make sure managers understand their importance in proliferating these messages and culture of recognition through their teams. One way to do this is by recognizing the managers themselves for actively following the recognition philosophy and embracing a new approach and new objectives instead of clinging to “how it’s always been done.”

If you’re uncertain of the ability or desire of your mid-level managers to lead their staff out of the recession, align employee efforts with changing strategic objectives, or inspire high-potential employees to remain loyal to your organization when new opportunities come available, it’s time to consider a new approach.


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