The Key to Transforming Company Culture Is Middle Managers


Middle managers are the key to healthier, more connected and more productive workplaces, as well as more satisfied employees—the kind who stay with an organization to grow their careers.

No one at marketing and creative agencies uses the term “middle managers.” However, the director-level creatives and account leads who occupy the layers between executives and individual contributors are in the middle.

Agencies are known for their high-stress, high-turnover environments and the folks in the middle, specifically, have especially hard roles. They must mind the billable hours, client expectations and work quality of their teams—while also contributing themselves. They’re pressured to ensure employees have five-star satisfaction with work at a time when employees’ mental health challenges are high.

The superhuman who can manage all of that successfully is rare. Here’s how leadership can provide support and recognition to the people leaders who are fostering talent for companies today.

Elevated but not supported

Research backs up the importance of middle managers—particularly to employees. “Relationships with management, in particular, account for 86% of workers’ satisfaction with their interpersonal ties at work,” according to research on bosses from McKinsey & Company. The 2023 Gallup State of the Global Workplace Report concluded that the No. 1 thing companies can do to improve employee productivity is “give them a better manager.” 

Many organizations, agencies included, are missing the mark when it comes to support. In a McKinsey report, just 20% of managers “strongly agree that their organizations help them be successful people managers.”

Often elevated from the ranks of individual contributors into an oversight role, they typically get zero training to help with the transition. They aren’t seen as a distinct employee cohort requiring specialized communications, support or recognition.

Pave their path to success

The first thing is to recognize the importance of these employees to the health of your organization and then create the conditions for them to succeed. Here are a few ways for CEOs and CMOs to grow their middle managers’ potential.

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