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Equipping Middle Managers to Foster Healthy Cultures Across Organizations

Middle-Managers are the most important culture-carriers in your organisation. Are you equipping them with the skills they need?

In most workplaces, leaders not only have a clear understanding of the value of inclusion, they’re genuinely committed to getting it right. And despite the growing politicisation of DEI, you’d be hard pushed to find a credible argument against putting in the work to maintain a healthy culture. From reducing the risk of poor conduct (and the reputational damage that comes with it), through to boosting retention and promoting innovation and collaboration – an inclusive culture is worth investing in. We all know that.

I recently spoke with a close contact who leads the London office of a large professional services firm. While talking all things culture, we got onto the divides that can exist between fee-earning staff and those in operational roles. His view was clear “There are no us and them dynamics here. Not on my watch.” An admirable sentiment indeed.

But let’s face it, even with the most committed inclusive leaders, every organisation is made up of micro-cultures, each with their own unwritten rules, and varying degrees of tolerance or acceptance of poor behaviour. On a day-to-day basis, much of what actually happens on the ground is hidden from the sight of leaders and HR teams. So, within these micro-cultures, middle managers play a crucial role, whether that’s setting the norms, promoting respect and fair treatment, or tackling issues at an early stage. Yet, according to research by the CMI, a whopping 82% of managers who enter a management role have not had any formal management or leadership training.

It is becoming clear that a failure to equip middle managers with the skills to - well - manage is presenting risks to organisations. And while mandatory training is rarely a popular option, as regulators sharpen their focus on workplace culture, and as organisations prepare for the Worker Protection Act to come into force in October 2024, skilling up middle managers as culture-carriers has never been more important.

Through our work with organisations across sectors, those who are equipping middle managers with the skills foster healthy cultures are typically taking five steps:

1. Clearly defining the role middle-managers play in their organisation. This includes the role they play in nurturing and developing talent, fostering collaboration, promoting a healthy culture, and managing conflict.

2. Conducting employee listening to identify strengths and shortfalls across the micro-cultures within their organisation. This could be conducted through 1:1 listening or through inclusion-focused employee surveys.

3. Engaging with their managers to understand skills gaps. Establishing the degree to which managers feel able to develop team members in a fair and consistent way, to manage conflict, implement workplace policy, follow talent processes… the list goes on.

4. Providing their middle-managers with training with a highly practical focus, supported by ongoing learning and engagement.

5. Developing accountability measures (usually carrot, rather than stick) to incentivise managers to invest in the people and culture aspects of their role.

While what good looks like will vary from organisation to organisation, we recommend all organisations consider the 8 C’s below when contemplating the skills needs of their middle manager population:

Clarity: Team members have clear individual expectations and goals, and understand how their work fits into the bigger picture.

Connection: Connections between team members and their managers are meaningful and regular. Managers have built trust and respect among their team members.

Compassion: Managers demonstrate empathy and have the knowledge and skills to support team members through challenging situations.

Conflict Management: Managers create space for constructive disagreement and handle instances of counter-inclusive behaviour and conflict between team members effectively.

Culture: Team members feel respected, valued, and able to share ideas. Mistakes treated as learning opportunities. Managers are alert to silos and cliques, and take steps to prevent and address exclusionary behaviour.

Consultation: Team members feel that they have a voice, and are consulted on issues that affect them.

Consistency: Team members feel that access to opportunity is fair. Talent processes are followed and steps are taken to remove bias from people-related decision making.

Controls: Checks and balances are in place to ensure that managers are fulfilling the people and culture aspects of their role.

In our view, middle-managers are among the most important culture-carriers in every organisation. If you would like to explore how Inclusive Group can partner with you to develop and equip your managers with the skills they need to drive a healthy and productive team culture, we would love to hear from you.

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