Aligning the Climate and Culture of the Organization through the Leadership of Middle Managers

Aligning the Climate and Culture of the Organization through the Leadership of Middle Managers

In the book «Service Leaders, How to develop Trascendent Leadership at the Middle Level of the Organization»[1], it is postulated that in order to forge a new and solid relationship with customers it is required a close and fruitful relationship with employees, both with those who interact with customers-in person or virtual mode- as with those who provide internal service. For this purpose, it is fundamental to promote the new role of middle managers within the organization. For this challenge it is necessary to develop its leadership, which is called «Service Leadership», because its purpose is to embrace a mission that includes these two clear responsibilities: serving customers and serving employees. Every mission involves serving someone and for something, that is, serving concrete persons for a specific cause. Employees cannot serve customers well if they don’t know them sufficiently and if they are not committed to that cause.

Thus, in the book mentioned above, we have sustained through an empirical research, that the commitment of middle managers and the development of their personal competencies and qualities are the key factors for them to assume their role for customers and employees and exert an authentic service leadership. In this line, several issues arise and we consider opportune to share in this article: how the leaders of middle level can build an environment that foster solid relations with customers and trustworthy relations with employees?, how these managers can achieve the strategic results that top managers expect?, how middle managers participate in aligning the organization’s climate and culture? And why should these being aligned?

We should begin with this last question. Nowadays, it is very frequent to observe a strong interest of companies to boost their organizational climate. It is considered that in taking care of the organization’s climate, a positive environment of well-being is maintained, that contributes to employee motivation and performance, and to relationships among collaborators. However, the relationship between climate and culture is generally ignored, and there is not enough effort and time dedicated for aligning these two dimensions. Perhaps, it is a matter unknown by those who lead, or is perceived as a complex issue to deal with. There is a need for greater interest and attention from top managers and middle managers to understand and address the dynamic generated between the climate and the culture of the organization. For example, Schein argues that what leaders must do is evaluate the extent to which the culture either supports or inhibits the desired changes in climate[2]. Schneider and colleagues argue that if certain cultural assumptions will be obstacles for building the desired climate and thus for achieving the organization’s strategic priorities, then leaders must make the hard decision of whether pursuing culture change is a worthwhile endeavor given the time and energy it would require[3]. In short, if there is no alignment between the desired climate and the existing culture, the proposed change will be limited. It is clear that in order to create a specific climate within the organization it is required that the strong beliefs that sustain the culture be compatible with the desired climate. It should be noted that the influence of those who lead at the middle level is crucial to create the specific climate, as is the influence of top managers to sustain the culture through their strong convictions. Thus, it can be concluded that climate and culture are two dimensions that claim to be aligned and treated together as we pointed out in an earlier article. And this alignment is required to the extent that the organization needs to sustain a strategic approach over time, or must adapt it according to the challenges and conditions that the external environment presents. Precisely, in order to sustain that approach and to achieve certain results, not only about the economical field but also the operational learning, an appropriate internal environment is needed. This environment has two dimensions: climate and culture.

Now let us return to the first question, that is, how the middle managers build this positive environment to which we refer. In order to analyze this issue that we consider relevant for companies today, we focus on the anthropological model of Pérez López. We have sustained on several occasions that it is essential that executives learn how to balance three dimensions to achieve the effectiveness of the organization: 1) efficacy, 2) attractiveness, and 3) unity[4]. Both top and middle managers have responsibility for this. This means that an organization must achieve certain strategic goals, which must lead to sufficient economical results. To do this, however, the organization must generate an attractive and constant operational learning that will ensure the future operational capacity with a distinctive style. In order to address on economical results and operational learning, it will be necessary to unify a commitment to a mission focused not only on customers but with the same dedication to employees. Here we can identify that the first dimension consists in generating a performance that follows established standards to achieve certain goals. This is the formal part of the organization. Many companies dedicate almost all their energy and resources to this dimension. However, they overlook or dedicate very little effort to the other dimensions that include the free, informal and spontaneous human reality that is decisive for the organizational success. These dimensions that we call climate and culture are often poorly understood or even underestimated in relation to their impact and contribution to the organizational functioning. Although companies are now giving some importance to what they call soft-skills and try that employees develop them for work. The issue is that if this development is not aligned with an integral management of the three organizational dimensions mentioned above, it is simply a new fashion that does not generate a consistent improvement for the company and its members. In many cases organizations try to lead employees through systems and procedures- now with greater use of technology- supplemented by soft practices- that allow the reduction of human conflicts and problems and contribute to a positive environment within the organization. It is still difficult to understand the relationship between strategic results to achieve and the necessary employees’ behavior for it, because the human reality within the organization is not observed in depth. To promote employees’ behavior oriented specifically to strategic results requires an environment that foster it in a concrete way, systems and procedures are not enough. And in order to create and sustain such an environment, it is essential for those who lead- at all levels- to share common convictions, to commit to a mission, and to observe consistent behavior. In other words, economical effectiveness requires an attractive social dynamic, and this, in turn, needs solid reasons to make sense of it. The alignment of these elements is fundamental and, in this, middle managers assume a special and particular task, since they are the link between the organizational strategy and the execution, and therefore, they require the guidance and support of the top management, as well as the integral development of their leadership.

Middle managers create strong and trusting environments for customers and employees when they fulfill three key tasks: 1) understand the organizational strategy in its general vision and its specific approach, with the requirement to be committed to the organization’s mission and policy, 2) implement the operational processes with their collaborators to achieve the strategic goals, with the requirement to generate continuous learning for constant improvement, and 3) lead each group of employees forging their development not only operational-technical but also their personal growth, with the requirement to promote identity and commitment to the organization. In this way, these managers participate in the creation of a particular organizational climate by applying the specific policies and practices in each team under their responsibility and by generating the specific employees’ behaviors that are expected to achieve specific outcomes. All this will be possible if middle managers develop certain personal qualities because it is not enough that they be prepared professionally and have the knowledge and skills for their management task. Therefore, these managers contribute to align the climate and culture successfully as long as they consolidate an authentic leadership. It means that they increase their competitive ability, improve their own style, and refine their moods and forge their character. Thus, with developed competencies they will be able to achieve the strategic results expected by top managers; with their better style they will be able to foster operational learning through a healthy environment with a general and specific orientation towards specific outcomes; and, with their personal leadership, they will be able to build trustworthy relationships to help each collaborator for his/her personal growth. It is called service leadership as it strives to create and consolidate a particular environment for providing a superior service to customers as well as to colleagues and employees. To exert this leadership middle managers try their own development constantly as well as the development of their collaborators. This leadership is sustained by the humility they nurture to be a continuous learner, so they can integrate their economical management with a social responsibility and a consistent moral behavior.

Middle managers align strategic goals with a healthy internal environment and focused on such specific results- through a generic and specific climate-, focused on service in this case in each unit. For that, they must be especially prepared for this task and must maintain an intimate[5] relationship with top management, and cultivate a positive and fluid relationship with their peers and subordinates. To sustain this alignment over time, or modify as be appropriated, these managers must share the essential assumptions and convictions of top management that contribute to the desired environment; but at the same time they have to identify those assumptions that become obstacles to generate the required environment. This will be possible if they develop their operational expertise, embrace the passion for service, and maintain their commitment to the organizational mission. The close relationship between top and middle managers will help them to clearly identify those convictions and beliefs that become a barrier for strategic changes and organizational improvements, and so, they will achieve reasoned agreements for the relevant decisions in the organizational functioning. Thus, a culture change can be defined and undertaken in a smart and participative way otherwise it will not go very far in this claim. This will be the right path to get the alignment among the efficacy, attractiveness and unity within the organization, in which the climate is the attractive and crucial dimension to sustain the efficacy, and culture is the critical dimension to forge unity and sustain the climate. For this, the leadership of middle managers is a pillar, but nevertheless frequently it does not receive the enough attention and support, thus, the efforts for improving climate and consolidate the culture become useless. The climate and culture must be aligned if the company wants a coherent achievement of results, not only for itself but also for all the members. To do that it is necessary that top and middle managers observe their responsibility with new eyes, those that know how to observe the transcendence of the human actions.

[1] «Service Leaders, how to develop Trascendent Leadership at the Middle Level of the Organization», Lucio Lescano Duncan, Ph.D. EUINSA, Spain, 2102.

[2] Schein, E. (2000).

[3] Ehrhart, M., Schneider, B., and Macey, W. (2013).

[4] Pérez López, J.A. (2000).

[5] We refer a very close relationship between top and middle managers based on trust for working together with a mutual support. We have analyzed this relationship in earlier article and consider that it requires  more research in order to identify deeply the aspects that are influencing the dynamic between climate and culture and the role of those who manage at top and middle level.