British business performance is being undermined from within by widespread mistrust of senior managers, according to research from leadership events specialists, Top Banana and the Chartered Management Institute (CMI). The new report, “The Middle Manager Lifeline” shows that there is a clear issue with the communication styles of our business leaders and urges them to commit to open and honest relationships with middle managers to fuel business growth.
Nick Terry, co- founder and managing director of Top Banana, says: “This report clearly demonstrates that if you want a high performing company, you need to engage and inspire your middle managers. Yet, with less than half of managers feeling that their leaders make communication with them a priority, there’s a lot of work to be done.
“There is a clear trust illusion in our organisations. Business leaders may think that it’s there but the reality is, the further away you get from the leader, the more of an issue trust becomes. Ultimately, trust is personal and therefore leaders need to create opportunities to communicate directly with their managers … candidly, honestly and with an open heart.
Good leadership communication is at the heart of a range of behaviours and actions that help to create high trust managers. The report highlights the fact that communication with line managers is not being made a priority, despite them being crucial to building trust and driving business performance.
Middle managers want greater transparency from the top, they want senior leaders to reveal their thinking on important issues (63%) but also to admit their mistakes (54%) and encourage people to raise issues (51%) with them. At present, less than one in ten (9%) are given the chance to feedback on information they’re required to share with their teams as a matter of course.
Low trust levels reflect a communication breakdown, with only 37% agreeing that their leadership team is transparent. This “trust gap” means only 31% of managers are very confident in relaying company guidance and strategy to their teams.
Mistrust of the boss is found to be closely linked to business performance and growth. 85% of the 1,450 business leaders and managers surveyed for the report agree trust is critical to business performance – and the report finds that fast-growing organisations are four and half times more likely to report a high degree of trust between middle and senior management.
The trust gap is particularly worrying in the wake of the Brexit vote, according to Ann Francke, CMI chief executive, who says: “The Brexit vote reflected a breakdown of trust in politicians, businesses and other institutions. Rebuilding it isn’t just a requirement of our political leadership – it’s a profound management challenge for the nation. These findings are a warning that a communication breakdown between leaders, middle managers and employees more widely is undermining growth. Leaders have to recognise the pivotal role played by middle managers at the heart of their organisations and support them to succeed in the months and years ahead.”
Middle Managers Don’t Trust Their Leaders
The result is a gulf in perceptions between senior leaders and middle managers. Some 72% of leaders think that they’re highly trusted as a manager – yet only 36% of middle managers say that they trust their business leader to a great extent.
The report sets out five essential elements for organisations to bridge the trust gap, recognising middle managers as the key connectors across organisations and creating ‘CIVIC’ engagement across the workforce.
- Communications – committing to an open and honest relationship with middle managers.
- Integrity – challenging everyone, regardless of seniority, to act according to stated values.
- Visibility – ensuring those at the top are seen to be accountable for their actions and open to challenge.
- Interaction – creating meaningful opportunities for colleagues to meet and feedback to senior management.
- Connections – investing in training and development at all levels to equip them with the professional skills to communicate and manage their teams.