Top Management-Middle Management: a key relationship to create and maintain a Service Climate and Culture

Top Management-Middle Management: a key relationship to create and maintain a Service Climate and Culture 

We have researched the group of middle managers of important international hotel chains and found two elements positively related to commitment that these managers assume within the organization: 1) “the support I receive from my boss to develop my leadership, and 2) “top management supports continuously the development of middle managers”, Lescano (2012). In other words, the more support they received from their boss to improve their leadership and the more support provided by top management to develop middle managers, the greater commitment was assumed by these middle managers in order to accomplish the organizational mission and goals. We should note that here are two types of actions, one promoted personally through the interest and help of the boss, in this case a top manager with a middle manager, and the other, generated through the established policy for middle managers’ development enacted by top management. While there are different actions, because the first occurs at the individual level, one on one, and the second is managed in the corporate system, the issue is that both are connected.

Therefore, it is important to consider the impact caused by the corporate management to the group of middle managers, and the impact caused by the informal treatment in a personal way. This is crucial for the middle managers’ perception and behavior. In particular, we must emphasize the importance that middle managers remark about the attention that top managers give to their professional and personal development. According to this experience, we want to highlight the effective contribution generated by these actions, from the boss and from top management as determinant aspects to forge middle managers’ commitment.

So, some questions arise to analyze this matter: why the relationship between top and middle management is relevant for the functioning of the organization? What aspects should be considered to strengthen this relationship? And specifically: how this relationship can contribute to create and maintain a solid service climate and culture?

According to the results of our research, the answer to the first question is the opportunity to forge middle managers’ commitment, which favors greatly the performance and effectiveness that is a big top managers’ expectation. Hence, middle managers’ commitment becomes an important issue for top managers, although in many cases they do not make enough effort to shape it. And for middle managers their relationship with top managers is relevant because it is a possibility to be taken into account for attractive projects or higher responsibilities. We must remember that the middle management is the link between the strategy enacted by top management and the execution for providing the product and/or service through employees’ performance under the middle management direction, Lescano (2012). In other words, top managers define the course of the organization and middle managers guide the operations according to that course. As Osterman (2008) states: “middle managers carry out the agenda of top management”. Top management is responsible for the strategy and the course of the company: which markets to choose, how much to invest, what type of technology to use, but it is not entirely in their hands to apply and transmit a specific orientation and to get the best employees’ performance and behaviors. This is a middle management task and managers will do it if they are essentially committed. This reference helps us to note clearly the relevance about the relationship between top and middle management for the organization. We try to avoid praise and charges separately to each of these levels, as we sustain that both of them must support one to each other in order to foster a highly competitive organization through committed and loyal employees.  It has been exaggerated to attribute to top management the organizational success, forgetting the crucial middle management role. So, we believe that it is wrong not to consider the middle level as a key group for the success of the company, and only focus on the CEO, whose involvement and relevance is unquestionable, Osterman (2008). Thus, we think that when we analyze climate, organizational performance and results we must include the type of relationship between top and middle management, as a group and individually, because it has a fundamental repercussion.

Both, top and middle management play a different but complementary role and both are key factors that need to support each other. Now the executive task is more changing and complex that in the past and this situation requires a better communication and coordination, especially between top and middle managers. Then, it will be necessary a solid relationship based on trust between them. Therefore, it is an imperative to take care about this relationship considering its impact on results and progress among the different organizational units. This relationship is relevant because when well conducted produces two main effects: 1) middle managers’ leadership development and commitment, in this case a leadership focused on service, and 2) a reliable implementation of policies, guidelines, and values promoted by top management. These effects undoubtedly contribute to accomplish organizational goals and mission, but also the top and middle management relationship is crucial for consolidating an authentic institutional style. It will be possible when middle managers are leading employees through a consistent behavior. At the same time these managers will foster a positive and continuous learning that will be a foundation for the organizational future. An important reason to strengthen this relationship is the continuity of the corporate philosophy which is the core to maintain an original organizational style.

A few middle managers will become top managers if they have shown enough learning and experience, and so, they will have to define new changes and new options that the company should take for the future. For this purpose top management must know how to guide, prepare and engage middle managers who will assume top positions, which obviously takes time and a close and healthy relationship between those involved. Thus, the relationship between top and middle management is vital to refine and follow a course, but also to achieve organizational effectiveness and continuity over the time. However, frequently there is no interest and sufficient attention for building this relationship. In some cases it happens because top managers do not see middle managers as a different and central group within the organization. Then, top managers are not aware about the type of relationship that they should build with middle managers. To overcome this situation top management must better understand the key role that middle managers play in the different organizational units and processes, and particularly, the influence these managers exert on employees’ behavior, and so, the type of climate that they can generate.

In order to strengthen this relationship first top management must establish clearly policies and guidelines especially for the group of middle managers. At the same time, each top manager must build a positive informal or spontaneous relationship with every middle manager in his/her charge. We recommend three specific actions to be taken by top management and by each top manager:

  • To ensure that the organizational strategy and policy are really understood by every middle manager. For example, Fedex gives a great lesson in this sense, as its top managers are constantly trying that middle managers assimilate the course of the institution without doubts about it.
  • To exert a leadership that embodies the corporate and moral principles and values in order to favor the middle managers’ leadership development with a specific focus. This effort will contribute to create healthy specific climates and to strengthen a solid culture through a positive learning environment.
  • To define specific policies and procedures to select, train, develop, evaluate, reward, and promote middle managers through a coherent corporate strategy and philosophy. Here it must be included recognition and loyalty as important elements for the group of middle managers and also individually.

In a case study of a multinational company, we found that middle managers demanded specific actions from top managers in order to create and strengthen a service climate: a) to establish a clear customer service strategy, b) to act consistently according to the corporate values and principles, and c) to give recognition to middle managers for service quality improvement. In the other hand, top managers expected from middle managers the following actions: a) to exert a leadership focused on customer satisfaction, b) to forge commitment to organizational policies and identity, and c) to promote cooperation and teamwork among the organizational units for delivering superior customer service, Lescano (2014).

From that research, it s clear that top managers are expecting middle managers’ commitment in order to accomplish organizational goals and mission, and for this purpose middle managers must promote an internal service climate. In turn, middle managers expect a consistent example from top managers, clear guidelines for their service management, and recognition for their effort. This case study shows the reality of many companies and is useful to emphasize that the more top managers are interested for strengthening the relationship with middle managers, and the more that middle managers respond with positive attitude, the more possibility to create healthy and highly competitive environment with a strong identity.

Huy (2001) demonstrated that when top managers underestimate middle managers it will reduce dramatically the possibility for undertaking important changes within the organization. Conversely, when top managers recognize and treat fairly middle managers, they obtained trusted allies and so can undertake changes favorably. Thus, we agree with Mc Cafferty (1980) who analyzed that top managers should better focus on middle managers, for example: to be interested about the problems that they face in the external aspects of the company, to know how they are handling the relationship with their colleagues, and how they are dealing with employees, how they are fostering unity and cooperation, and how they respond to the relationship with their superiors. All these aspects commonly are not taken into account. While a convenient corporate management for the group of middle managers is important, particularly through the development process for these managers, we think that it is essential take care especially the informal relationship between a top manager and middle manager, as a master-disciple relationship. Although there are coaching and mentoring processes to apply, in many cases they are not improving the right development and orientation for middle managers. To us the informal treatment is fundamental for this relationship, and so, it is possible to build trust in order to forge middle managers’ development and commitment. Then, middle managers will foster employees’ commitment effectively. In turn, middle managers must devote special effort for his/her professional and personal development and not only focus on technology and formal management system without a consistent personal style. In short, each middle manager is responsible for forging a character with deep convictions to conduct his/her leadership style. It is a new attitude to drive the complex challenges and responsibilities with enough depth and consistency. And it will be crucial for the relationship with his/her superiors, colleagues, collaborators, and internal or external customers. Top managers’ effort for getting middle managers’ development and commitment will be essential, but also the determination and response from middle managers. Thus, the responsibility for improvement and consolidation of this relationship is assumed by top and middle managers.

Finally, this is a key relationship to create and maintain a service climate and culture. We use three dimensions to organize the elements included for this purpose. In the business dimension, middle managers should: a) receive training about technical-operational aspect of his work, and also about the administrative aspect, b) receive clear and complete information at the right time about the policies, service strategy, goals, etc., c) receive enough resources to do their job efficiently. In the climate dimension: a) receive orientation and support from superior in order to achieve organizational goals, b) receive useful feedback from the boss about his performance for improving service processes and to remove obstacles for service quality, c) receive recognition if his contribution is impacting favorably the customer satisfaction results, d) be involved by top management in making decisions related to services management, e) be invited by top management to participate in an attractive and integrated teamwork, f) receive a positive informal communication from top management, g) have an efficient system for professional development focus on the business field and also focus on service field. In the cultural dimension, middle managers should: a) be prepared to convey an authentic customer-oriented culture sustained by strong corporate values, b) receive consistent training to develop competencies and leadership qualities focused on service, c) have the confidence of his superior and support to develop his leadership, d) receive a coherent example from top managers focused on business and people with the same interest, e) have an integral development system to favor his personal improvement. For this purpose it will be vital top managers’ effort but also a concrete budget to meet middle managers’ requirement, something that is quite often ignored or underestimated. Normally, the focus use to be on management tools and techniques but not on the criterion to use them.

Top managers’ attention, interest and support for their relationship with middle managers will be decisive for consolidating middle managers’ commitment and leadership. As a consequence middle managers will respond with effectiveness and loyalty. Therefore, it is an imperative to do the best effort for strengthening this relationship as a key factor to create and maintain a solid service climate and culture, and so, to project a better future.