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Talent Management

The Challenge with Middle Management

January 20, 2015
5 min read
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“If you want a recipe for disaster, just follow in the footsteps of many businesses today: As organizations are getting flatter and pushing responsibility down the ladder onto middle managers, those middle managers are not receiving the leadership development training they need to handle these responsibilities.” - Peter Walsh, Head of Global Marketing, Harvard Business School Publishing

The following article discussing middle managment was originally posted in January of 2015. It has since been updated to include new statistics and information as of January, 2017. Need more key finding of how to improve management? Take a look at our related articles:

Walsh couldn’t have said it better. Middle management serves as the liaison between the employee base and the senior leadership. Increasingly, middle managers hold more responsibilities than they have before. What does that mean for the organization? Contrary to common sense, this rung in the hierarchy of professional development is severely lacking in training for many companies.

What is the Problem?

It’s not that these managers don’t have the desire to participate in available development opportunities. In fact, the opposite is true. The problem lies within the core growth values within the organization itself. There simply aren’t many available opportunities. Studies show it can take upwards of 29 months - that’s nearly 2.5 years - to train a high-potential mid-level manager. That alone serves as evidence the process needs to be expedited.

Company leadership is aware of the training deficiency - perhaps that’s the most concerning facet of this leadership issue. The biggest obstacle in developing leadership lies within the middle management level, according to 46% of executives. Most of the limited resources devoted to training is dedicated to senior management level positions. Training mid-level managers more thoroughly would negate the need to devote such a large portion of the training budget to upper management. Due to the lack of proper training, just 10% of mid-level managers feel well-equipped to handle the complex challenges of their roles. Developing these professionals doesn’t have to be a rigid formula. There are different methods to prepare them for senior management depending on the needs of the organization including:

  • Insight-based learning - This training takes the focus beyond foundational skill development and into using these skills to gain insights into how to handle challenges at work.
  • Peer Learning - Training events provide excellent opportunities for mid-level managers to network and learn from each other because they are each equipped with a variety of experiences.
  • Integration of Execution and Learning - This gives those in training the opportunities to develop solutions to work challenges while they are still in the classroom so they can learn from the various situations.


 Essential for Consistency

Effective training is necessary because mid-level management comes with its own set of particular challenges.They are responsible for consistent strategy execution. As a result of so many training programs lacking essential mid-level instruction, managers have difficulties in: driving performance in a changing world, managing horizontal integration, leading and developing their teams, and making decisions about strategy execution. In fact, a study conducted by Insigniam reported:

“Our research shows that 50% of managers say their primary job frustration is that decision-making is taken out of their hands. This in turn creates a sense of pressure and a sense of a loss of power to get their work done. The result? 25% intend to stay with their current company only until they receive a better offer.”

Without the opportunities for training and professional development, organizations run the risk of losing their crucial middle rungs of their leadership chain. Yet executives say that leadership is the number one talent issue… so then why are organizations spending their training funds on senior leadership? Only 13% of executives say they do an excellent job developing leaders at all levels. That leaves 87% of companies who could improve their leadership training.

Middle management is fundamental to maintaining a hold on strategic decision-making and developing the next generation of leadership within the organization. However, they can only do so effectively if they are trained. As with all training programs, it’s not a one-size fits all type of system. There are a few methods to choose from so leaders can best pick the route that fits their organization. Companies have to change their allocation in training funding and offer the opportunities for managerial education for those in the middle. Otherwise, these middle managers will find an company that will give them the development opportunities they desire and need in order to grow professionally.


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