Only a third of middle managers say they fully trust their senior leaders; however, 72% of senior leaders believe they’re highly trusted.
These incongruities were found in ‘The Middle Manager Lifeline’ report by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) and Top Banana, which also found that four in five middle managers believe staff lack full trust in their CEO.
This distrust could potentially hinder business growth, with 85% of business leaders and managers agreeing that trust is critical to business performance. The report also found fast-growing organisations are four-and-a-half times more likely to report a high degree of trust between middle and senior management.
Perhaps reflecting a communication breakdown, only 37% agree that their leadership team is transparent and only 31% of managers are ‘very confident’ in communicating company guidance and strategy to their teams.
Middle managers want greater transparency from the top, urging senior leaders to reveal their thoughts on important issues, (63%) admit their mistakes (54%), and encourage people to raise issues (51%) with them. Just nine per cent are able to feedback on information they have to share with their teams.
Ann Francke, Chief Executive, CMI, believes this distrust following the EU referendum is troubling: “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.”
Nick Terry, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Top Banana adds: “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 with their managers candidly, honestly and with an open heart.
“The UK’s business landscape has changed unrecognisably with an informed, empowered generation of people entering the workforce. They’ve grown up with information at their fingertips and nothing less than the truth will wash. There’s never been a more important time to build the bridge between leadership and middle management.”
The report sets out five essential elements for organisations to bridge the trust gap:
1. Communication – committing to an open and honest relationship with middle managers
2. Integrity – challenging everyone, regardless of seniority, to act according to stated values
3. Visibility – ensuring those at the top are seen to be accountable for their actions and open to challenge
4. Interaction - creating meaningful opportunities for colleagues to meet and feedback to senior management
5. Connections – investing in training and development at all levels to equip them with the professional skills to communicate and manage their teams