Feature Article - May/June 2015

Managing Managers

Getting the Middle on Board

By Brian Summerfield


What They Want

Middle managers essentially want two things: to feel like they're being led by people who are passionate and responsive, and to be given support that will position them for future career success. Recognition and rewards can go a long way in demonstrating that organizational leaders are aware of and care about good managerial performances. They also give managers confidence and model important behaviors.

"There's no better vehicle for a CEO to communicate what's important to the company than to recognize and reward employees for the behaviors and results that drive the company toward success," said Michelle M. Smith, vice president of marketing at O.C. Tanner. "And I firmly believe that group of employees should also include middle managers. I could even make a case that middle managers need incentive and recognition programs more than any other employee group!

"Middle managers require the same motivation and appreciation as other employees," she added. "Managers shouldn't be singled out or excluded from incentive programs that drive results. Nothing drives revenue, cost savings or profitability like motivated and engaged employees. Insightful companies know recognizing and rewarding performance can boost engagement and improve profits. These cost-efficient programs are effective vehicles for delineating what's important to the company and rewarding those who are achieving their goals including managers."

Also, incentives initiatives are one of the best tools organizational leaders can give managers to encourage desired actions and attitudes among their direct reports.

"Recognition and incentive programs have proven to be a highly effective means of aligning employees with boardroom objectives and cascading the company's strategic imperatives throughout the organization and into the hands of the people who can make them a reality," Smith said. "Middle managers play a vital role in operationalizing and cascading those messages."

Mike Ryan, senior vice president of marketing and strategy for Madison Performance Group, agreed.

"Managers put that into something employees can recognize and act upon," he said. "They can make it actionable. And they can guide those employees toward something that makes sense to them."

Managers are more likely to enthusiastically communicate those messages and encourage employee involvement in rewards and recognition programs if their input on those initiatives is sought early on.

"To get buy-in from middle managers, it's crucial to involve them in designing and communicating the program," said Jennifer Reimert, vice president of solutions consulting at Globoforce. "Find the influential managers or 'hidden influencers.' If you are developing a new program, involve them in the discussion around what works and what should change. It's important to have them help you conduct focus groups with a cross-functional group of other influencers to build a base that can then evangelize and help communicate what the company is going to achieve with a new recognition program."

"Smart leaders expect and encourage their middle-managers to take an active role in recognition and incentive programs in order to maximize the effectiveness of those programs," Smith said. "Savvy executives make it clear to managers that supporting and promoting reward and incentive programs are an important part of their job, and give them permission to do so by consistently encouraging them in those efforts. This is often overlooked, which is a shame given the enormous opportunity for increased results that it offers."