Middle Management, the “Nerve Cells’ of the Enterprise

In my last post I talked about the importance of effective communication. The level of communication I think deserves more attention is how leaders in our organizations communicate. More specifically, those in middle management.

Communication skills are a top priority

This management group has the unenviable task of translating strategic initiatives from upper management into a message that makes practical sense to the rest of the enterprise. For example, if they were tasked with the strategic initiative “Increase market penetration”, for successful implementation of this initiative, they might convert this to “A systematic calling campaign to households in the emerging affluent classification” to clarify how the organization can use its capabilities to fulfill the strategy.

Imagine middle managers as the nerve cells that translate messages from the brain into actions that the rest of the body must carry out.  Those cellular structures do the work!

Harvard Business Publishing surveyed 800 global executives in 2013, focusing on development for middle managers. The results of this survey showed that 76% of those surveyed named developing communication skills as a top priority, due to the central role that middle managers hold in communicating up and down the organization.

It is the role of the middle manager to process and translate messages
that resonates with both the leadership and the line

The communication goes both ways

Just like the cells in your body, organizational communication signals need to go both ways.  Think about it, if messages that trickle down from the top are void of feedback, there is a lost opportunity. It is the role of the middle manager to notice the pleasure or the pain occurring during the process of adopting a new strategy and translate those experiences into recommendations that resonate with both the leadership and the line.  Is the “pain” being experienced a good pain, like after a great workout, or is has an injury occurred that needs attention?

Facts and data tell the best story

When translating pain or pressure points into a message, it is easy to get caught up in how we, or our people, feel.  Facts and data provide the backbone of a middle manager’s messaging, especially if the message is asking for a course correction. Facts and data move us beyond emotions and give our senior leadership information that they can use.

Communication does not stop with the board

High-level communication skills should not stop at the level of the board of directors. Establishing great communication skills for middle management will pay dividends.

Messages that come from the board, directed at the workforce, often get lost or are simply ignored. The organizational structure for departments and areas of focus in many enterprises unfortunately tend to operate as individual silos where the sharing of ideas and information stays inside of the walls of departments. Whether this is deliberate or not, the success of a project or initiative will depend on middle management’s ability to extract the proper details from these silos, translate, then appropriately filter them through the workforce.

Middle managers are often responsible for sharing important news with their teams and ensuring that everyone is on the same page. Often they are expected to do this with little or no training in communication skills.

The communication conduit

Middle managers are in a unique position in any organization. They need to build open communication channels with their team members, then translate team requirements into a form that upper management and the board of directors will understand. Likewise, they must also shape strategic messages written by upper management into a form that communicates and resonates with the organization. The ability to be a conduit between these disparate worlds must not be underestimated. Managers who feel equally at home sitting in the board room as well as wandering around the factory floor are worth their weight in gold. Being able to command respect at every level of the organization is not an easy thing to do.

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