Over the past few years, companies of all sizes have increasingly made the move to more agile and “flat” operational structures—cutting out layers of middle management in favor of a shorter chain of command, more transparent communication, and increased efficiency. However, companies’ issues with mid-level managers often result from overlooking and underusing them. In reality, managers can be a company’s most powerful secret weapon when it comes to staying flexible and responding quickly.
Rather than cut out middle management, organizations that want to stay nimble and strategic should engage their managers as strategic business partners. Managers are already impacting your organization on multiple levels every day. Their influence over their teams shouldn’t be discounted, and the expertise they can lend leadership is priceless. To empower managers, make sure you’re leaning into their knowledge, actively involving them in strategy, and proactively keeping them engaged.
Managers Keep Leadership Decisions Grounded In Reality
Oprah Winfrey, Nelson Mandela, Elon Musk: everyone has their own favorite example of visionary leadership in action. And rightly so: today’s organizations need visionary leaders to drive them forward. But if those leaders don’t rely on managers to keep their visions firmly planted in reality, they can easily lose touch with the audiences they’re serving. (Case in point: Musk’s plans to live on Mars may be visionary, but they don’t really solve most Earthlings’ daily pain points.)
It’s easy to understand why some leaders can become a bit detached from their organizations’ day-to-day work or their customers’ needs. As companies grow, so does their organizational complexity — and as more employees join the company, leaders can become insulated from the daily problems they used to solve. Leadership can be just as prone to working in silos as the rest of the company.
Empowering managers to work as leadership’s strategic business partners can solve this problem. As the tactical leaders on the front lines, they generally have a much better understanding of the daily operations of their departments. They understand employees’ concerns intimately and know which issues are most pressing for customers and what features are more in-demand. When empowered and engaged, managers can use that knowledge to influence leadership’s decision-making and keep strategic plans grounded in reality.
How To Empower Managers To Speak Up
Proactively ask managers for their opinions, schedule regular one-on-ones to get their feedback, and involve managers in leadership brainstorming sessions. The more opportunities a manager has to safely voice an opinion, the more comfortable they’ll be speaking up.
Managers will also feel more confident in raising their voices if they have the data to back up their arguments, so consider empowering them with a tool like Trello Enterprise, which allows managers to easily surface team insights. Trello Enterprise’s Dashboard view works as a project reporting tool, allowing managers to easily find, collect, and track data across projects and team members. Whether a manager wants to prove that one issue should be prioritized over another, that budget should be allocated differently, or that there’s enough interest for a new product, Trello’s Dashboard view can help them make the case.
Managers Translate Leadership’s Vision Down The Ladder
As it turns out, managers not only move strategic insights upwards — these are also leadership’s best bet for translating a strategic vision down the ladder.
Most companies hire managers based on their ability to rally their teams and get them on board to tackle company goals — a trait that experts tend to call visionary leadership. And for good reason: research shows that managers with visionary leadership skills are great at getting their teams on board to tackle company-wide goals. But there’s a catch: managers actually need to agree with leadership’s plans. When managers don’t agree with the direction or strategic vision set out by the company’s leadership, they may go along with the plans anyway — but their teams will show less alignment and commitment to the company’s goals.
Fortunately, you don’t have to simply roll the dice on manager buy-in when it comes to rolling out a new strategic vision or goal. You can ensure alignment with middle managers by involving them in strategy execution efforts before they take place. Not only can they provide valuable insights on new projects (see the section above), but they can also be extremely helpful when it comes to figuring out how to execute on them. Rather than simply treating managers as the go-betweens who dole out tasks to employees, managers should be actively — and consistently — brought into the fold to figure out how a strategy should be carried out. This allows managers to take ownership of their arenas and creates buy-in.
How To Engage Managers For Increased Strategic Alignment
Loop managers in early when it comes to strategy execution efforts. If managers are able to set the direction on how their teams can support the strategy, they’ll be far more likely to carry it through. Ideally, you should also empower managers with tools that make it easy for the entire team to see how individual team efforts feed into a company-wide strategy.
With Trello Enterprise’s Table view, both managers and leaders can view tasks from across teams or projects in a single list, allowing everyone to track what’s being done in pursuit of a common goal.
Employee Engagement Starts With Managers
Outside of larger projects, managers also play a massive role in keeping their team’s engagement and productivity up. In fact, according to Harvard Business Review, 63% of employees say that their relationship with their manager has a significant impact on their level of engagement at work. And yet, while many companies focus on increasing employee engagement, managers are often overlooked — with two-thirds of managers feeling either unengaged or actively disengaged at work.
Clearly, companies today are facing an epidemic of unengaged managers — and those emotions trickle down to their team members and your company culture. To keep managers engaged, companies should empower them to make more strategic decisions, streamline their workload with time-saving tools, and help shape them into coaches rather than “bosses.” The higher managers’ engagement levels are, the higher employees’ will be, too.
How To Empower Managers As Coaches
To lessen managers’ workloads and increase their engagement levels, support them in developing their mentoring and coaching skills. By stepping out of their usual roles as bosses that simply delegate tasks, managers can coach employees to take on more responsibilities and collaboratively set goals. This helps lift some of the work off of managers’ plates and helps them further engage with their teams. (It also works wonders for boosting employee empowerment and lifting your organization's culture.)
To make that transition even easier, consider empowering managers with a tool like Trello Enterprise. Within Trello’s classic Board view, managers can set up customizable boards that give them the coaching flexibility they need. They can set up boards to lead dynamic one-on-one meetings, set up agile workflows that empower team members to proactively take on tasks, and make feedback a team-wide exercise. To more easily monitor the team’s progress, managers can just switch over to Trello’s dashboard view to see their team’s workload and metrics.
Empower Your Managers To Drive Strategic Change
In today’s rapidly changing world, organizations face more challenges than ever before — from juggling distributed teams to understanding consumers’ changing habits. However, with the right support and empowerment, your managers can become the perfect allies to help make your company more agile, flexible, and engaged. Ready to get started? Learn more about empowering your managers with our Trello Enterprise offering.
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