Improving middle manager performance through engagement

Improving middle manager performance through engagement

Every member of the hierarchy likes to be credited for the overall project or business success. However, none are quite as impactful as middle management. 

Middle managers account for a 70% variance in employee experience. They are the fulcrum of workplace engagement, culture, and productivity. They have a greater impact on employee performance than any combination of employee benefits, purpose, senior managers, and strategy. 

Middle management are the backbone of success yet they are still communicated to through KPIs, strategies, and instructions. It is time to evolve. If we want to illicit a positive domino effect on performance, we need to improve middle manager engagement levels. 

How can we improve middle manager performance?

The causal relationship between employee engagement and productivity, profitability, safety, innovation and staff retention has long been proven. High levels of engagement drive performance metrics across the board. With middle management most responsible, it makes their engagement a high priority. But, where do you start with middle manager engagement?

  1. Recruit Effectively

Middle management recruitment is more nuanced than is typically appreciated. It is not as straightforward as appointing the highest performer or most tenured. Leadership qualities are not always aligned to job performance. A highly rated mechanic does not have to be equipped with exceptional interpersonal skills to be effective. This is where promoting into incompetence occurs. 

Middle managers should be appointed based on their profile as a leader. 

  • Can they motivate the team? 
  • Are they respected by their peers? 
  • Are they driven by the business purpose? 
  • Can they handle conflict respectfully and rationally? 
  • Can they represent the team effectively? 
  • Can they communicate the vision of leadership to others?
  • Can they translate high-level vision to individual team tasks?

  1. Create Clarity for Manager

Middle managers are the vehicle of communication between strategizing and activating the top-line vision. As managers are driven by purpose and clear expectations, senior leadership should articulate how a strategy can be achieved and how it contributes to the business’s purpose. When strategies or priorities are not precisely defined, frustration grows.

Decide an effective communication channel based on the middle manager. Emails, meetings, phone or Zoom calls, in-person conversations or presentations are valuable options. Choose the one most likely to be understood. Make time for clarifying questions and check in regularly, especially at the start. Communicate consistently and ensure the manager has somewhere to go for support. Provide a clear roadmap if needed.

  1. Acknowledge the Position’s Challenges

The squeezed middle is not just an economic class. Middle managers have demands placed on them from up and down the hierarchy. They are expected to achieve ambitious goals with the same personnel resources. They carry the weight of leadership and are treated as an endless source of solutions by their teams. It is a challenging, stressful and pressurized space to occupy.

Acknowledging the challenges alleviates pressure. Highlights competing for priorities, address skillset shortcomings, and resourcing needs. By consistently assessing the challenges, a senior leader can avoid over-burdening and burning out the individual. 

  1. Feeding Up the Chain

Performance reviews are so often seen as a top-down appraisal channel. If you want to know what is working and effective, you need to hear from the team below. Feeding up the chain gives the freedom to air concerns and bottlenecks faced. It allows managers to request additional support and resources. 

In addition, subordinate staff feeding up provides positive insight or opportunity for improvement. Team members may be complimentary of individual managers which might not get heard otherwise. Where the staff member has suggestions, it creates a chance to tweak things for a more harmonious experience. 

  1. Provide Growth Opportunities

60% of middle management is made up of millennials. 87% of them state career progression and professional development as. They want to feel as though their careers are going somewhere. Dead-end jobs are their kryptonite. However, it is not just about new accreditations, it is about satisfying ambition. 

Middle management want to be involved in strategy creation and see how their responsibilities translate to overall success. They want stretch goals that motivate creative innovation and undivided focus. Most managers want opportunities to impress. Involve them in planning and give them the autonomy to achieve goals their way. 

Managers seeking stretch goals and accredited courses are often those that demonstrate high potential but they are not the only one’s who should be considered. By focusing solely on high-potential managers, leadership actively disengages others. Opportunities for growth should be appropriate to the individual and their circumstances.

  1. Offer Recognition for a Job Well Done

It may seem exceedingly obvious but all staff members need recognition. Each team member likes to be seen and respected for the value that they bring. Middle managers are no different. However, the result of not acknowledging middle management performance is often more damaging. 

Middle managers are carrying burdens of leadership and expectation and still delivering. When this goes unnoticed, the weight of those pressures with no thanks is disheartening. Depending on the introversion or extraversion of the middle manager, making a fuss about their achievements goes a long way to improving their engagement.

  1. Assess Management Engagement

Vehicles and people routinely go for servicing, dental cleanings, check-ups, and more to maintain health and performance. The same check-ups should be applied to manager engagement. Routinely assessing engagement allows for leadership to keep a finger on the pulse and correct any deviations from full engagement. 

  • What obstacles are you facing?
  • Do you feel supported?
  • Are you feeling motivated?
  • Are you feeling valued?
  • Is there clarity in our expectations and priorities?
  • Do you feel equipped to succeed?
  • Can you reduce your shallow work?
  • What helps you be successful?
  • How is your personal life?
  • Are you burdened by any outside stressors? 
  • What can we do to improve things for you?


Middle managers are company culture and engagement. Staff teams depend on them for cultural cues and support. Leadership depends on them for success. Without the full and empowered engagement of management, the foundations of any business creak. 

Start by hiring leaders that inspire performance from those people around them. Give clear expectations and priorities that excite their ambition and personal drive. Recognize their challenges but provide the support required to overcome them. Acknowledge when they have come through on demanding projects. 

The relationship between engagement and performance is well documented. Revenue, safety, productivity, staff retention and morale all fluctuate significantly based on staff engagement and few hold more influence than middle managers. By creating strategies to enhance middle manager success, you are ensuring trickle down improvements to all sectors of your business.

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