Fulcrum: the point or support upon which a lever pivots. An agent through which vital powers are exercised.
In our strategic planning process, Vision Navigation®, it is common for our clients to identify two significant problems when they are looking internally at the challenges within their organization:
- Lack of direction
- Lack of communication
These challenges are intransigent despite leadership efforts to provide a clear strategic direction, communicate that direction and improve internal communications.
The key question is why?
All Roads Through Middle Management
Quite simply, top leadership can’t meet these challenges on its own. There is not enough time in the day to reach everyone often enough to fulfill the need we all have to know where we are going, why, how we are doing, problems being addressed etc.
Leadership must rely on middle management to carry the message and engage in the two-way dialogue with their employees vital to creating real understanding and alignment to strategic direction. It is here that the gap in performance is normally found.
Why the gap?
I have several theories about this but am interested in hearing back from you on your own experience. Here is what I have found to be some of the causes:
1. Lack of accountability for performance I have never experienced a situation in which middle managers are truly held accountable for their performance as communicators of direction from and input to leadership. Firstly, it is not common for this role to be explicit in the expectations leadership has of middle managers. Secondly, there is no gathering of data as to whether or not it is being carried out. The only way to really know if this is taking place is for leadership to practice “MBWA”, or Management by Walking Around, and inquire of rank and file employees what they know, what they don’t know, what questions they have, what concerns they have etc. This would be the acid test for whether or not middle managers are performing.
2. Knowledge is Power Middle managers at times withhold communicating what they have learned from leadership in order to create a dysfunctional dependence upon them. Or, worse yet, they hold onto the information believing it to be a source of power, when the truth is that empowering their employees is what gives them true power. In short, they don’t want to communicate, even if they know they should.
3. Lack of skill Middle managers are often not given training on their management responsibilities. Rather, they are selected based solely on their level of technical competence. Hence, they lack skills in being able to effectively carry out two-way communication.
What to do?
Few organizations make a meaningful investment in their middle management. They assume that having been with the organization for awhile, they will have learned leadership and management skills by osmosis.
Despite consistent data that tells top leadership that middle management is thwarting their initiatives, leadership fails to take action to address the problem. It is almost as if leadership has a blind eye toward this problem. But, this is the key or fulcrum as to whether change can be effectively executed. And, making changes rapidly and effectively is an essential skill for organizations in today’s competitive world.
The solution is rather straightforward and consists of the following elements:
- Define expectations of middle management clearly. Expectations should include providing input and alignment to strategic direction, problem solving and execution of leadership initiatives, among others.
- Assure that middle managers are trained on how to execute on these expectations.
- Monitor whether those expectations are being met.
- Assure that performance on those expectations is tied to rewards or corrections.
Would love to hear from you. You can reach me at