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Why HR must equip middle managers with a toolbox to deliver care and connection

By Shandel McAuliffe | |7 minute read
Why HR must equip middle managers with a toolbox to deliver care and connection

Over the last five years, mid-level leaders have been evolving rapidly as businesses become flatter and decision-making becomes faster and gets devolved down the hierarchy simply to keep pace. I work with these leaders – they are too junior to be 'in the tent’, yet carry the lion's share of responsibility for culture and for performance. Boston Consulting Group says they are the “forgotten but critical cohort”. I say they are the ‘B-suite’.

Few HR leaders would disagree that the B-suite is critical from a people and performance perspective:

  • They are the translation point between executive and workforce – often working on behalf of both agendas to make things work.
  • They are the connection between strategy and execution, and responsible for how the work gets done.
  • They hold the relationship with your workforce and as a result can make or break your corporate strategy. They also have a vast influence over the real culture of your organisation – how day to day decisions are made, and what behaviours are rewarded and affirmed.

HR already knows that without the B-suite, transformation fails, execution fails, and culture fails.

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Yet there are equally few HR leaders that I speak to who have put a targeted program for their B-suite in place.

Why not?

They are a big group – and expensive to train. They are seasoned leaders, so skill set is rarely their issue – and mindset is harder to develop. Their day-to-day habits are major contributors to trust, performance and engagement, yet they are rarely given long enough to develop the mindset and mastery to create a true habit shift.

Yet this shift is exactly what they need because leadership conditions have moved.

The social and professional disconnection we’ve experienced over the past three years is having a profound impact on workers and the workplace – the space where the B-suite is so pivotal to our success.

  • Trust is at an all-time low. Gartner says that since the pandemic, 41 per cent of employees have lower trust in their teams and 37 per cent have lower trust in their leadership, and Deloitte tells us that over 30 per cent of staff are not confident that their employer had done a good job of developing trust between employees and their leaders.
  • Wellbeing concerns that started in 2018 have now morphed into burnout which has reached an all-time high, especially here in Australia where 4/5 individuals are experiencing burnout – among the worst in the world, according to Asana.
  • Attrition rates – either noisy or quiet quitting – is universally acknowledged.

We know that the B-suite is central to dealing with this, so how can HR equip, encourage and empower their B-suite leaders to respond successfully?

Care

In a recent poll run by BoldHR, an overwhelming number of respondents (92 per cent) said that they believed their leaders needed to show more personal care, and that the care factor had dropped significantly this calendar year.

There is a growing gulf of appreciation between workforce and leadership that illustrates this point. According to Deloitte, leaders now underestimate by about 50 per cent just how much their people are struggling. Only 56 per cent of workers feel that their executives care about their wellbeing, compared to 91 per cent of executives who think that their people know they care.

It’s a notable gap, one that only the B-suite can bridge – but not when the focus is performance over people, or what we term accountability over compassion instead of compassionate accountability.

To counter this, empower your leaders to have greater agency on topics such as flexible working or compassionate leave, and help them to rebalance their application of compassion and accountability, a balancing act many of them are struggling with.

Connection

Research shows that a lack of genuine communication and engagement – or connection – is a major cause of decreased trust within organisations.

Accenture tells us that only 1 in 6 workers feel connected to their workplace colleagues, but leaders think it’s only half that bad. The result of this is increased loneliness, isolation, and depression affecting all levels of the workforce.

Connection was something that used to happen by being physically together on a daily basis. Now, leaders need to reach out individually to connect and communicate. Leaders need HR to create capacity in their daily routine so they can make that happen. At the moment, their workload is rising at the same rate as the expected personalisation from their workforce. The B-suite may well be the most burned-out cohort of them all.

Rebecca Houghton is the author of Impact: 10 Ways to Level up your Leadership

Shandel McAuliffe

Shandel McAuliffe

Shandel has recently returned to Australia after working in the UK for eight years. Shandel's experience in the UK included over three years at the CIPD in their marketing, marcomms and events teams, followed by two plus years with The Adecco Group UK&I in marketing, PR, internal comms and project management. Cementing Shandel's experience in the HR industry, she was the head of content for Cezanne HR, a full-lifecycle HR software solution, for the two years prior to her return to Australia.

Shandel has previous experience as a copy writer, proofreader and copy editor, and a keen interest in HR, leadership and psychology. She's excited to be at the helm of HR Leader as its editor, bringing new and innovative ideas to the publication's audience, drawing on her time overseas and learning from experts closer to home in Australia.

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