Managers are the Critical Link in Transformation

Updated: Jan 29

Do your transformation plans recognize and leverage the valuable role that managers play? Think of a recent plan where the stakes were high. How much time and resources were allocated to engaging managers who act as the vital link between leadership and employees?

Consider these findings published in Harvard Business Review: of 56 companies undergoing major transformations, 68 percent failed in their efforts. Of the 32 percent that did succeed, a hallmark of their success was the involvement of managers that were two or more

levels below the CEO.

Transformation is a balancing act for managers

As the rate and pace of organizational transformation continues to increase, the role of the manager is becoming more complex - and more valuable. Organizations need their managers to be visionary, tactical and flexible when holding employees accountable. Research shows that this balancing act required by managers can make them feel unappreciated, stressed out and depressed. While it's true that managers have higher salaries and more autonomy than their employees, they also earn less than their superiors and aren't directly involved in the big decisions. Unfortunately, managers must often give direction they don't fully understand or support.

TinyPulse, an employee engagement firm, has observed a phenomenon that shows how powerful non-HR and non-C-level managers can be: increasingly, these mid-leaders are leading the charge in implementing employee engagement strategies at work. They found that:

  • 69 percent of employees want their direct manager to take the charge on employee engagement strategies.

  • Employees with strong managers are 20 percent less likely to quit their job even if they're offered more money from another employer.

Here's how you can empower your managers to make the biggest impact possible:

  1. Share the organization's vision with your managers early and often. Don't wait for transformation projects to kick off before talking with managers about the future of the organization. Keep an open dialogue throughout the year to help them understand their role in shifting employee mindsets and behaviors and encourage them to share feedback and ask questions. As new transformation directives are rolled out, managers will then be better able to understand why the change is occurring and how to share it with their teams. Whenever possible, share the new strategic vision with managers directly through a face-to-face meeting or via video. Many of our clients have successfully showcased videos of leadership sharing key information about the future of the organization.

  2. Train managers and provide them with the resources they need to develop their managerial skills. According to the American Society for Training and Development, only 11 percent of managers feel well prepared to handle increased responsibilities and challenges. In addition, research by Sandler, a global training leader, found that 80 percent of managers said that their company expects them to lead without formal training. Luckily, leadership can be learned. In an interview with Business News Daily, Dave Mattson, Sandler CEO, said: "Managers are made, not born. They need constant development. When you ask managers what they did to enhance their skills, they tend [to say] they learned about this operating system, etc. But they need help [with] the 'people side' of the business."

  3. Encourage your leaders to be "thinkers." Great leaders are often thought of as people of action. But great leaders also are great thinkers. A recent study published in Harvard Business Review shows that thinking about your experiences is just as - if not more - important as the experiences themselves. It's essential that managers are thinking about what has worked, what hasn't, and why so they can use successful approaches on future projects to get better results. They should also create a reflective work environment where their employees have the opportunity to share learnings, either individually or as a team.

  4. Give your managers a voice in the process. Managers aren't usually in the room when decisions about the direction of a company are made, but this doesn't mean they don't have valuable input. When you first engage managers, ask them for their input and feedback. They have insights about their role that only they can provide and can alert you to barriers - and solutions - that will take your plan to the next level.

  5. Consistently communicate. When leaders meet with their superiors frequently, transparency and communication increase and surprises are less likely to arise. This also provides a great opportunity to collect valuable feedback on a regular basis.