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Overcoming Disconnect Between Middle & Upper Management

By Lisa Woods (1694 words)
Posted in Leadership & Teambuilding on March 4, 2013

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Two common themes exist in most organizations.  “Upper Management is too distant.”  “Middle Management is too independent.”  Essentially they are saying the same thing right?  There is disconnect between management levels that causes animosity, poor moral, and an inability to get things done efficiently & effectively.  Now, I could write this article about how to overcome disconnect by dealing with the problems, but I’m sure you can read about that approach anywhere.  What I want to talk about is shifting your mindset from trying to improve relations between management layers, to strategically aligning management layers in order to give your business a competitive advantage.  Basically, stop trying to fix management problems because there are too many viewpoints as to what actually causes them; you won’t be able to fix them from your perspective alone.  Instead, focus on creating a multi-level management team culture where collaboration creates the following results:

  • Cross-functional strategies
  • Fast turnaround of existing & new processes
  • Clear & motivational messaging
  • Real-time information flow
  • Collaborative customer feedback


Now imagine your management team, at all levels, as a vehicle to create this culture.  Would your employees feel empowered?  Would customers view your organization as their first choice?


So how can you influence this new multi-level management culture in your company? 


Here Are 4 Steps to Building A Strong Multi-Level Management Team Culture


Step 1:  Define Your Management Hierarchy & Team Members

Typically there are three layers of management.  Depending on the type and size of the business, some layers are merged or eliminated.  Establish formal definitions of each layer, and assign all the names of your management team into each bucket.


Middle Manager/Supervisors

Middle Management is a group of individuals that run the day-to-day business, manage the largest number of employees and have the greatest ability to influence success of the company’s goals and targets. A Middle Manager typically reports to a company Director who in turn reports to the company’s Executive Leadership (President, Vice President or General Manager). Examples of Middle Manager positions include: Customer Service Manager, Sales Manager, Plant Manager, and Accounting Manager. Of course job titles vary based on the size or type of organization, but the resounding definition is that the Middle Manager does not provide strategic direction however he/she implements an action plan and manages it across their employee base.


Senior Manager/VP/Director

A Senior Manager is a member of a team at the highest level of the organization. He leads within the organization typically having one tier of management above, and multiple layers of management below. Senior Managers report to the Executive Officer of the company and manage the day-to-day activities of the business by setting direction in line with the overall business strategy. Senior Managers filter the executive leader’s message, by setting goals and objectives and managing the communication throughout their group. They are responsible for the spending and financial results within their area. Senior management positions include Director & Vice President titles. President and General Management positions head the Senior Management team.


Executive Leadership/General Manager/President

Executive Leadership sets the course for the company to succeed; it is also solely responsible for the company’s failure. The course for success is not limited to strategy & profitability, but also includes setting the company culture for spending, innovation, employee motivation, quality, safety AND management style.


Defining the management layers is not to separate individuals based on importance.  It is to provide clarity as to the roles of each group.  Not one of these groups is more important than the other; instead, they merely have different roles in the management structure.  The full group is the Management Team.  Set this expectation first.


Step 2:  Develop A New Vision For Management

Now that you have defined the Management Team, it’s time to define the objectives the team must achieve together:


Cross-Functional Strategies

Alignment of objectives across all departments.  This requires managers to share objectives and ensure they are understood and aligned by their internal suppliers and customers.


Fast Turnaround of Existing & New Processes

Establish key contacts within each department to collaborate on implementing new processes throughout their teams, as well as breaking down barriers/building bridges between departments in order to ensure processes flow smoothly.


Clear & Motivational Messaging

Everyone must make sure a clear and motivational message is sent to all employees.  Each manager is responsible for adapting the company messages to their teams in a way that directs them to take specific action and explaining how things impact them while maintaining the same motivational message consistent with all other parts of the business.


Real-Time Information Flow

All communication must be implemented at the same time, consistently and in a coordinated effort.  All managers know the role they take in this information flow system.


Collaborative Customer Feedback

A repeatable and regular customer feedback program must be put in place sending comments throughout the multi-level management team.  Cross-functional project teams should be assigned to address issues and communicate resolutions and new working processes back through the management structure.  The cycle for improvement will be customer focused; customers driving improvements, management functioning as a team to drive & implement positive change.


Step 3:  Communicate the Vision

Get all three levels of management together and present a clear vision for the team.  Don’t talk about current problems or past disconnect.  Instead focus on the new mindset – Building a management team that creates a competitive advantage for the company.  Here are some tips for your initial meeting:

  • Take the meeting offsite to a meeting facility that offers a retreat atmosphere and team building activities.
  • Have name tags and table cards created for each person stating their name/management level & functional department:
    • ie: John Smith/Middle Manager/Accounting
    • Present the definition of each management level, as well as the multi-level management team vision to the entire group.
    • Set the stage for the next portion of the meeting.  Explain that each team level will go off into break out sessions to define how they can best implement the vision components, as well as develop a list of questions and wish list for the full group.
    • Before you conduct the breakout sessions, have the group take part in some team building sessions.  It will be a good way to create a team atmosphere before the collaborative work begins.
    • Conduct breakout sessions defined earlier, and be sure to provide each group with the tools they need to prepare a formal presentation to the entire team.
    • Have the team reconvene and each group present their ideas, as well as ask and answer questions.
    • Finish the meeting with a list of final agreement plans to move forward, as well as open action items for each team…always assigning a lead contact for each item.
    • Conclude with a follow-up timeline:
      • Action items to be submitted to whom by when for distributing to full team.
      • Quarterly follow-up meetings to review progress
      • Performance objectives linked to successful implementation of the management vision.


Step 4:  Make It Real & Measurable

This approach to management change is not to mend fences and create teamwork.  It is to create a positive impact on your business results by transforming your management team into a competitive advantage.  You have a clear, actionable vision, make sure you follow through with it.  Here are some ideas:

  • Add the objectives to performance evaluations for ALL managers.
  • Have quarterly lessons learned meetings with each management level.
  • Create a monthly “Management Report” with a section for each of the five vision components sighting examples, results, upcoming timelines and targets.
  • Reward success and replace managers that do not buy into the vision.


Remember, it does not matter what level of the organization you participate in.  You can start leading this cultural shift today.  Set an example that others can follow by making changes in your own area, working with others to improve, and communicating your team’s success.


What is the current relationship between management levels in your company?  Do you think an active effort to adopt this or a similar management culture would bring value to your organization?


Good luck!



Written by Lisa WoodsPresident & CEO ManagingAmericans.com

Lisa is a successful entrepreneur, world-class marketing strategist, dynamic business leader & author with more than 20 years experience leading, managing and driving growth in the corporate world. Today she provides Management Tools, Do-It-Yourself Training, and Business Assessments for small to mid size companies, Lisa utilizes her experience with integration techniques, organizational and cultural overhauls, financial turnarounds and strategic revitalization to help other companies succeed.  Closing the gap between strategy and hierarchy through the use of effective communication skills, Lisa's techniques successfully develop employees into exceptional leaders, results driven managers and passionate team contributors that collectively exceed objectives.


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Comments (4)

Keith posted on: March 4, 2013


This is a great article. Culture is always determined by Management because they reinforce or limit people's actions in the workplace through reward and punishment (whether planned or not). And the culture of a company truly makes the difference in productivity. A culture that makes employees feel small and fearful of their jobs is quite detrimental to all aspects of the business. Whether people just don't try hard enough or they try to steal from the company, the employees act out to reclaim the control they feel Management is stealing from them. And conversely, when employees feel empowered, they have an incredible amount of "buy in" and make things happen that Management may not have even thought possible (look at USAA Federal saving Bank, Wal-mart, and Zappos as examples)! Thank you for putting out this article about the importance of creating a positive culture at work. It really does help.

Lisa Woods posted on: March 4, 2013

Thank you for your feedback Keith. I absolutely agree with your assessment. Management drives culture whether planned or not. It amazes me that some leaders believe culture improvements are a project, something separate from their day to day. When the reality is a conscious leader influences culture proactively in everything they do. If any one of us focuses on changing ourselves and the expectations we set for others, we can improve culture, every day.
Take care,

Carl Byron Rodgers posted on: March 4, 2013

Middle Management is too busy making Upper Management happy through half truths.

Rosanna Nadeau posted on: March 6, 2013

Lisa, I went to your website to read the above article, and found myself reading several articles...all really well written in actionable terms relevant to bringing about improvement through culture development, management, and change. Thank you! I bookmarked your website and will be spending more time there.

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