Article: Why the 'middle' should be your top priority?

Learning & Development

Why the 'middle' should be your top priority?

Exclusive talent development focus on high potentials misses the backbone responsible for strategy execution: middle managers
Why the 'middle' should be your top priority?

The big gap between strategy and execution lies in the capabilities and skills of middle managers


Traditional approached to developig middle managers may be detached from an organisation's strategic imperatives


Developing middle managers is a growing priority for most organisations. As the economic environment continues to challenge organisations, the big gap between strategy and execution, lies in capabilities and skills of middle managers. Almost all organisations are also realising that if they don’t develop these managers, their leadership pipeline will suffer.

Harvard Business Publishing (HBP) believes that organisations need to focus on developing all middle managers and not just the high potentials. While many organisations run specific programmes on strategic skills for high potentials, all middle managers need development. At the end of the day, middle managers form the backbone of the organisation and are responsible for strategy execution.

In a recent survey by HBP titled ‘Developing Middle Managers in India: Emerging Trends’, 78 per cent of organisations indicated that relative to the last 3 years, their middle manager development budgets are expected to increase.

Traditional middle manager development programmes may not be paying off

Some of the numbers that have emerged make us ponder if the traditional ways of developing middle managers are paying off. While 64 per cent of organisations indicated that they have formal middle manager development programmes in place, only 28 per cent believe that they have done a good job of evolving their leadership development programmes for middle managers.

69 per cent of organisations felt that they need to revamp their middle managers development programme and 23 per cent of organisations indicated that their senior management had lost confidence in middle managers’ ability to meet the “changing needs” of the organisation.

Deeper conversations with some clients revealed that traditional approaches to developing middle managers might be detached from an organisation’s strategic imperatives; isolated in class and detached from day-to-day work; limited in scale and not reaching out to all middle managers; or neglecting self-awareness, mindset and values needed to work in an uncertain environment.

Blended learning: The road ahead

As organisations struggle with the challenges of scale (covering all middle managers) and effectiveness of programmes, they will start using blended learning as the major form of deployment strategy for their middle manager programmes.
Blended learning has many definitions, but to put it simply, it is a mix of face-to-face workshops, though of shorter durations than traditional workshops; online learning used to build foundational skills prior to the workshops; and scalable action learning through simulations, case competitions, etc. so that the participants can apply what they have learnt.

Organisations are realizing that both standalone classroom workshops and standalone online learning do not meet their needs. The survey showed that 80 per cent of organisations indicated that they will use blended learning in the future.
The key skill lies in integrating all of the above into a tightly knit programme architecture. Whereas, many organisations have all these 3 forms of learning, only a few do a good job in integrating them.

Develop and train middle managers to execute in an uncertain market environment

As the market environment continues to be uncertain, our middle managers need some specific skills to execute in this context. Stakeholder management, influencing, and managing self and others during these times are becoming increasingly important. Middle managers also need to think while executing, they need to have the business acumen to identify key market trends among loads of data they are exposed to, sense opportunities and convince internal stakeholders to sponsor new projects.

The important question is, are your development programmes helping your middle managers do the above? The truth is that only 28 per cent of organisations believe so.

Vivek Chachra is Director, Corporate Learning (India & Middle East) at Harvard Business Publishing


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Topics: Learning & Development, Strategic HR

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