How to Align Middle Management with Strategy

How to Align Middle Management with Strategy
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Middle Management Needs to Be Deeply Engaged in Strategy Design and Planning
Our organizational alignment research found that strategic clarity accounts for 31% of the difference between high and low performance.  It also found that middle management plays a powerful role in getting strategically aligned.  When managers are deeply engaged with a company’s strategic priorities, they report higher levels of confidence in where the company is headed and increased motivation to help execute the plan to get there. For strategic plans to succeed, companies need to align middle management with strategy.

When Middle Management Is Left Out of Strategic Design and Planning
But when middle management is left out of the strategy design and planning process, even well-designed strategies run into major roadblocks to change because they and their teams do not know how to:

  1. Ensure that their decisions do not negatively affect other teams
  2. Avoid short-term firefighting tactics when conditions change rapidly
  3. Make the inevitable strategic and tactical adjustments to keep the strategy on track

The Consequences of Under Involvement
Serious strategic, cultural, and operational disconnects can occur when there are even the slightest of strategic gaps between leaders and middle management.  And do not be fooled into complacency by people’s apparent commitment to the big picture strategy.  Although most managers’ report high commitment levels to their company’s overall strategy, they also confess that they struggle to understand how the strategy relates to their own role and responsibilities and to the roles and activities of other employees.

The result, even if the leadership team is aligned strategically, is a corporate strategy that disappointingly fails to meet expectations and wastes precious company time and resources.

What Executives Need to Do to Align Middle Management with Strategy

  1. Provide Clear and Meaningful Connections
    Make sure that middle managers understand specifically how they and their teams fit into the whole strategic picture. People leaders must be able to articulate how their actions and decisions impact other stakeholders so they do not derail, duplicate, or conflict with others.

    You will know you are on the right path when middle managers can connect their teams’ strategic purpose, plan, and role to those around them.

  2. Proactively Prepare Middle Managers for the Unexpected
    Executives often use scenario planning to anticipate and prepare for what could go wrong.  Middle managers should do the same.  Help your middle managers prepare for the unexpected.  Share the key strategic scenarios and have teams identify and prioritize trends and disruptions likely to affect their success.

    You will know you are on the right path when teams have a realistic view of where they are today, agree upon the key future scenarios that matter most, and have a plan to act once the scenarios are triggered.

  3. Give Middle Managers the Tools and Resources to Know Where Things Stand
    Because middle managers are on the frontline, they are the most likely to know what is working and what is not working.  Make sure that they have the tools, resources, and capabilities to monitor and adjust to ensure that the strategy stays on track.

    You will know you are on the right path when metrics for success are transparently shared, discussed, and acted upon.

The Bottom Line
Too many leaders fear that involving middle management in the strategy design and planning process will slow things down.  In fact, with strategy and people, you need to go slow to go fast.  Have the courage to actively include more people and more perspectives into your strategic planning process to speed up your strategy implementation.

To learn more about creating strategic clarity for your teams, download Is Your Business Strategy Clear Enough?

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