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Line managers are the real guardians of company culture – why aren’t leaders acting on it?



Line managers face big challenges today that are frequently overlooked. They’re now tasked with supporting multi-generational and hybrid teams who have different expectations of work, but often aren’t being given the appropriate support themselves.

This is short-sighted. The impact of a manager’s behaviour, working style, and mindset on employee experience and culture can be seismic. Without a wholesale rethink of the way they work with teams, productivity will decline. 

Now’s the time for leadership teams to reshape the role of the line manager and consider whether the systems, frameworks, and training in place support the culture they’re trying to foster. Setting clear expectations for them will alleviate pressure and ensure they meet the evolving needs of teams while focusing on growth.  

Holding the line:

Line managers need better support

Helping line managers to support staff better

The line manager’s role in engagement

Encourage and empower

The nature of work has shifted. Choosing when, where and how we work has become a priority for people – and the ‘command and control’ approach is no longer a route to success.

It’s up to those at the top to lead by example and show line managers how to encourage autonomy among teams while motivating and guiding them.

Managers who set expectations and empower teams to be accountable in reaching goals, with the appropriate support, will mark a much-needed shift from micromanagement.

The additional benefit here is that employees can see how their own contributions make a tangible difference to the business; proving fundamental to performance and an organisation’s culture.

While this strategy will foster greater trust between managers and employees – a key component of any high-performing culture – leaders shouldn’t assume all line managers will be comfortable with the change.

Concerns they’re relinquishing too much control have to be alleviated through consistent reassurance that their role is to empower and deliver results through teams.


Less managing, more coaching

One way of overcoming this challenge requires reframing line managers as coaches. 

Leaders that actively role model and demonstrate the importance of developing management skills needed today, such as active listening, empathy, promoting growth, as well as prioritising inclusion and collaboration, will help managers drive performance without feeling overbearing. 

This ought to go in tandem with a greater investment in training. For example, challenging line managers to adopt a growth mindset and spotting signs of poor mental health, such as burnout, as well as skills to signpost this. 

But while hacks to delegate responsibilities and motivate teams are well and good, what line managers rely most on is fervent leadership. Regular access to leaders who authentically role model and provide guidance on navigating challenges is key. It’s the alignment between leadership and management communities that creates a stronger culture, and keeps managers engaged.


Building communities with a shared vision

It’s hard to foster a community when teams are so fragmented. But line managers are any organisation’s best shot at bringing people together.

Arming line managers with storytelling techniques will ensure they share the company’s vision effectively and help teams see the value in the work they’re doing. It’s important that managers give autonomy to employees, but they should also help teams connect by emphasising the collective goal they’re working towards; tying their work to the strategy and purpose of the organisation.

Our attitudes to work have shifted in a way that we may not see again for a generation. To continue retaining and attracting employees, leaders must not only recognise the impact a line manager has on both individuals and an organisation’s culture, but reimagine their roles and ways of working in line with today’s employee values.

Leadership teams that have purpose at their core, invest in management communities, and reward the right behaviour will create a culture that supports the ambitions of the business, and this’ll have a direct impact on productivity and profitability. 

Alys O’Neill is director of consulting at United Culture

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