Over the past year, society has paid ample attention to the “future of work.” Experts have spent hours making predictions about what that future will look like—both for workers and business leaders.
Companies are now transitioning into this new normal, with the future of work officially becoming the present. But that doesn’t mean leaders have ironed out every detail. Some are still navigating virtual work, and many are implementing a hybrid approach in which some work is done virtually while other duties are performed in person.
This feels like uncharted territory for many. Whether businesses have gone entirely virtual, hybrid, or back to the office, the world has changed. People have changed. The way we work has changed.
Leaders face the challenge of providing the best possible support to the people they guide through this new era—especially the midlevel managers who are responsible for directly supporting employees. When those midlevel managers are given the support they need, they can provide that same support in return. And that results in a happier, more engaged workforce overall.
I talked with four leaders to see how they are working to support their midlevel managers now that the future of work has arrived.
1. Sheldon Yellen, CEO of BELFOR Property Restoration
BELFOR Property Restoration CEO Sheldon Yellen says connections have always been the driving force of his business—they’re how he best supports the colleagues he leads. For Yellen, strengthening connections by listening and encouraging is key when supporting midlevel managers: “Being able to listen to their challenges and provide reassurance that tomorrow is going to be a better day not only helps the individual but also trickles down to the rest of the business. If they feel heard and supported from the executive level, then they can provide the same support to their employees, which allows them to do their best work, too.”
Yellen also notes the importance of showing appreciation to midlevel managers. Everyone wants to know their work is appreciated and that they’re part of something bigger than themselves. As such, they feel valued when they know that you are their leader and their teammate; they can then share that sentiment with the people they lead. Ultimately, not every day will be perfect, but Yellen believes that encouraging positivity provides the strongest foundation for supporting employees.
2. Kara Hertzog, President of IES
IES President Kara Hertzog argues that midlevel managers are the most important component of any company’s success; they’re instrumental in moving strategic initiatives forward and executing those initiatives successfully. That said, she notes that nobody can do this without supportive leadership. Giving them the right tools and defining the right processes is crucial to company success, and investing in that success should be part of any company’s strategic plan.
“Rallying a team behind you has become even more crucial for success, yet much harder with a new distributed workforce,” Hertzog says. “Ensuring that your leaders have the proper training and are equipped with tools to help simplify this for the manager and their teams is important. Instead of just adding one more major initiative to the workload of likely already overworked managers, help them automate things like reporting or performance measurement. Offload more time-consuming tasks so that they can spend more time fostering relationships among their peers and teams.”
3. Gus Cicala, Founder and CEO of Project Assistants
Project Assistants Founder and CEO Gus Cicala says supporting midlevel managers well requires understanding that this is a new age for the division of labor. “The best way to support middle managers right now is through structure,” Cicala says. “Put goals in place and get everyone on track. Now is a great time to deconstruct and then plan, execute, and delineate new roles among the members of your organization. In some respects, remote work makes many roles redundant (e.g., some brick-and-mortar office management). In others, more roles are necessary (e.g., more coordination and technology to manage). In still others, the deck has been reshuffled entirely.”
Cicala says teams are most effective when the roles are divided among employees clearly and strategically. Rather than siloing people in their own roles, having the proper division of labor encourages more engagement and integration because employees can harness their expertise. Helping middle managers to best delineate tasks and roles in this new way of work is essential to supporting them and helping them foster success. Cicala calls it a precious opportunity to foster healthy engagement and increase satisfaction.
4. Sue Bingham, Founder and Principal of HPWP Group
Finally, HPWP Group Founder and Principal Sue Bingham says successfully supporting midlevel managers—and the employees they oversee—in this new way of working comes down to asking them for feedback, taking that feedback to heart, and putting their insights into action.
“This hybrid work model covers place, but companies need to start paying more attention to process and, most important, people,” Bingham says. “No matter the hybrid work configurations they end up favoring, employers must get serious about adapting to employees’ needs by soliciting their input along the way.” Once they have this input, it’s most important of all that they use it to optimize operations, processes, and policies to best support managers.
We are in the middle of a workforce transformation, and we need to support midlevel managers so that they can support the employees they lead. It might seem like a tall order, but it can be done. By encouraging team members, ensuring they’re able to focus on what’s most important, gathering their feedback, and translating that feedback into action, leaders can ensure that midlevel managers are able to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.
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