Tone at the Top: What leaders say or don’t say—what they do or don’t do—directly influences employee confidence, trust, and behavior.
But don’t assume the only leaders in a company are the executives. In fact, those with the most influence on the rank and file are the managers and supervisors who interact closely with employees on a daily basis. Study after study shows just how powerful “Tone in the Middle” can be on workforce performance:
The same report found that only 35% of managers are actively engaged, and that the current number of disengaged employees costs the U.S. between $319 billion and $389 billion annually.
Research by economists Stephen Dimmock and William C. Gerken indicates that employees who witness or learn of misconduct are more likely to commit it themselves—essentially, that one bad employee or manager can corrupt their entire team.
Numbers like these prove what many of us already suspect: that the closer a leader is to her team, the wider her influence on their attitudes. That means the outcomes of your organization’s HR and compliance program hinges on your frontline managers.
Breaking Through the Middle Manager Barrier
Chances are that your middle managers are among your busiest employees. They’re caught in the crossfire of directives coming down from on high, translating those strategies into realistic action plans, and then making things happen on the ground. It isn’t that middle managers are necessarily opposed to ensuring compliance objectives and obligations are met, but that these initiatives just aren’t making their way above day-to-day operational duties and responsibilities.
To fully inhabit their roles as influencers, managers need to see compliance as an inherent fact of their jobs, rather than something separate and “tacked on.” Most managers conceptually buy into the need to mitigate risks at the departmental and individual levels, but feel strongly that they have a “real job” to get done first. Taking time out for presentations and training—as well as having to hound direct reports about staying current on their policy reviews and assertions, safety certifications, and the like—isn’t naturally a high priority.
To break through this barrier, you need to share with your middle managers the why, what, and how of the company’s compliance objectives. You’ll need to impart an understanding of where your organization is going, how compliance and ethics align with these strategic priorities, and the details of your plan to reach your program goals. Armed with this framework, middle managers will be better equipped and inclined to more effectively influence the people on their teams, departments, and projects.
Tone in the Middle Starts with ACE
Everyone tasked with running HR and compliance programs needs an “ACE” in their pocket. To broaden the network of program advocates within the ranks of middle management, make sure your programs emphasize Accountability, Clarity, and Ease:
Use Automation to Transform Compliance Into a Fundamental Part of the Job
How can an organization increase accountability, clarity, and ease within its HR and compliance programs? The answer is automation.
By thinking out each process and transforming it into a repeatable workflow, organizations can lead their managers through the required steps of a process quickly and efficiently. A manual approach frequently leaves it to a manager to figure out what needs to be done next. That’s not only a difficult question for managers, but an opportunity for confusion and unaccountability—a manager is much more likely to drop the task.
Making processes into easy, repeatable workflows requires you to codify desired practices and procedures, and subtly embed objectives and best practices within routine activities. In other words, automation makes program compliance a natural, ongoing part of the job. That alone gives managers almost everything they need to become your greatest compliance advocates.
After all, what are managers best at, if not making sure employees do their jobs?