Middle managers can be organizations' biggest asset: report

Tracy Li
Honest conversations on career development and opportunities to build skills are crucial to getting the best results from mid-level talent, according to Hays.
Tracy Li

Middle managers can be an organization’s biggest asset, provided they have open and honest career development conversations, are given opportunities to develop their skills and are empowered by senior managers to make change happen, recruiting expert Hays said.

As the link between senior leadership and operational staff, middle management are often the key to success in an organization, according to Simon Lance, managing director of Hays China.

“They embody an organization’s culture, make change happen, are accountable for delivering results and are central to employee retention. Yet the undervaluing of middle management is all too common,” he said.

For years, middle managers have been overlooked when it comes to talent management, falling into the no-man’s-land between “top talent” and “rising stars,” said Dr Zara Whysall, head of research at talent management specialists Kiddy&Partners.

She believes the whole concept of middle management needs a rebrand, to a position that is recognized as a skilled craft.

“The role needs to be seen and treated as a destination in itself.”

To get the most from middle managers, Hays advises organizations to have open, honest and good-quality career development conversations with them to help them understand what they want from their careers.

“If they want to progress further, work out what the options are. At the same time, share succession requirements and provide clarity about what’s needed for them to move to the next level, if that’s of interest,” said Whysall.

Similarly, senior managers should talk regularly with middle managers and ask for their feedback on things like what they love about their job, what frustrates them, what gets in the way of them doing their best, and what changes would make it easier for them and their teams.

Also, senior managers are advised to learn to delegate to their middle managers when they are under pressure to deliver.

Dan Robertson, director of Vercida Consulting, suggests three key areas where middle managers can develop their skills.

The first involves drawing on the diverse perspectives of organizational stakeholders when making decisions in order to “see their own biases and work with others to mitigate them.”

They must also develop a curiosity that can lead to questioning rather than telling people what to do and learn to connect the dots in operational activity and spot issues before they appear.

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