The Underappreciated Role of Middle Managers in Strategy Implementation

Role of Middle Managers in Strategy Implementation

The role of middle managers in strategy implementation can make or break your strategic initiatives.

Strategy Implementation Success
Our organizational alignment research found that strategic clarity, believability and implementability account for 31% of the difference between high and low performing teams and organizations.  That means getting all key stakeholders (not just the executive team) on board with where you are headed, why your strategic direction makes sense and how you plan to get there – especially middle managers.

A Woeful Record
What we hear over and over again from leaders is that their finely crafted strategic plan is not being implemented at the quality or speed that they expect to produce the results they need.  Here is the woeful record of strategy implementation according to the research:

  • IBM found that less than 10% of well formulated strategies are effectively executed.
  • 49% of leaders surveyed by Booz & Company said their companies had no strategic priorities.
  • Employees we survey perceive that the organizational strategy is 50% less clear than their leaders believe.

Strategies Must Go Through People and Culture
For a corporate strategy to make a real and positive difference, it must be properly executed.  To be properly executed, it must go through your people and your culture.  Certainly executives bear the ultimate responsibility for success, but they cannot implement plans on their own.  They need the active support of middle management.

Why Middle Managers Are So Important
For successful implementation, executives need to depend on their employees.  And the best interface between executives and their employees is middle management.  The more effectively you can engage middle managers, communicate the plan clearly, ensure their understanding and get their full-fledged buy-in, the more certain your successful strategy execution.

Bharat Anand, Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School maintains that “middle managers are central to execution of strategy.”  Indeed, in a survey of over 500 business leaders, over 60% responded that lack of engagement of middle managers created a major obstacle to strategy implementation at their organizations.  The role of middle managers in strategy implementation is a powerful one.

Get Managers Actively Involved
It is critical that managers agree and commit to the strategic priorities. Middle managers are the ones who must translate high level plans into decisions and actions to be carried out on a daily basis that affect customers and employees.  Without the commitment and support of them and their teams, your strategy is just wishful thinking.

The Bottom Line
Strategy execution is not a slam-dunk.  It takes a plan that is well understood and subscribed to by all in the company.  And it is the middle managers who need to be fully engaged if you are to get employees involved and actively pulling in the same direction.  Do not make the mistake of underestimating the role of middle managers in strategy implementation.  How are you involving your middle managers in strategy design and execution?

To learn more about how to help middle managers implement your strategy, download 3 Big Mistakes to Avoid When Cascading Your Corporate Strategy

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Ken Boehm
VP of Human Resources

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