Why middle managers no longer trust their bosses (and what that means for UK Plc)

22 September 2016 -


Nearly two-thirds of middle managers lack trust in their senior leaders. Read on to find out what is causing this crisis and how you can bridge the trust gap in your organisation

Matt Scott

British business growth is being undermined from within by widespread mistrust of senior managers, according to the latest research from CMI.

The survey of 1,456 middle managers, The Middle Manager Lifeline, found that only one third (36%) fully trust their senior leaders. This breakdown is also corroding wider employee trust in organisations, with four in five middle managers believing that staff lack full trust in their CEO.

And managers believe this mistrust is clearly associated with poor business growth.

Some 85% of business leaders and managers agree trust is critical to business performance, with the CMI report finding that fast-growing organisations are four-and-a-half times more likely to report a high degree of trust between middle and senior management.

CMI chief executive Ann Francke said this corrosion of trust is particularly worrying in the wake of the EU referendum and the uncertainty this has created.

“The Brexit vote reflected a breakdown of trust in politicians, businesses and other institutions,” she said. “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.”

A breakdown in communication

The report found that low levels of trust in an organisation also reflect a communication breakdown, with only 37% agreeing that their leadership team is transparent.

This trust gap means only 31% of managers are ‘very confident’ in communicating company guidance and strategy to their teams.

Middle managers interviewed for the report were clear in their want for greater transparency from senior leaders:

  • 63% want senior leaders to reveal their thinking on important issues;
  • 54% want them to admit to their mistakes; and
  • 51% want to be encouraged to raise issues of concern within the organisation.

The result of this lack of transparency at the top is a gulf in perceptions between senior leaders and middle managers, with some 72% of leaders thinking that they’re highly trusted as a manager – yet only 36% of middle managers saying that they trust their business leader to a great extent.

Nick Terry, co-founder and managing director of Top Banana, said bridging this gap between senior leaders and middle managers has never been more important.

“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,” he said. “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,” he adds.

The report sets out five essential elements for organisations to bridge the trust gap, recognising middle managers as the key connectors across organisations and creating ‘CIVIC’ engagement across the workforce.

Communications – committing to an open and honest relationship with middle managers

Integrity – challenging everyone, regardless of seniority, to act according to stated values

Visibility – ensuring those at the top are seen to be accountable for their actions and open to challenge

Interaction - creating meaningful opportunities for colleagues to meet and feedback to senior management

Connections – investing in training and development at all levels to equip them with the professional skills to communicate and manage their teams

Visit www.managers.org.uk/middlemanagerlifeline for more information on the campaign and to tell us how you are transforming middle management in your organisation. You can also join the debate on Twitter @CMI_managers @wearetopbanana

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