Developing Middle Managers

Caught in the Middle, a new article by Wharton School of Business captures the dilemma of middle managers quite starkly. When they do their job well, they co-ordinate the needs and efforts of many people spread across the organisation and often have no visibility from senior leaders. They are accountable for execution of strategy, yet are squeezed from above and below and are often the subject of retrenchments because their value is not visible until too late.

One way to support middle managers is with development programs that cater to their needs for respect, recognition and reinforcement, but beware offering them training – experienced people hate the thought of going to training. So what’s working in the world of middle manager development?

Forums – give the middle managers the opportunity to meet and discuss issues with their peers and executives. Make sure the managers themselves contribute to the topics and clarify whether the purpose is to discuss and understand vs. to set action plans. Too much setting of action plans just looks like more work for middle managers.

Read on to find out about: Games and simulations, study tours, arts-based processes, and futurists and founders.

Games and Simulations – are a good way to practice new skills and take on new behaviours. Simulations that mimic the real environment are ideal. Games and simulations which are more generic, are still beneficial when there is significant reflection and discussion built into the activity. Simulations where managers can practice multiple scenarios are also great for developing different perspectives.

Study tours – to visit best practice organisations and talk with leaders in other industries provide an opportunity to think outside the box of what is possible.

Arts-based processes – many managers think practically and in words or numbers, so arts-based processes provide opportunities to think differently. There are a multitude of processes in use, to encourage visual, kinaesthetic and auditory thinking through: imaging, cartooning, painting, drawing, clay making, modelling, collages, singing, drumming, skits, plays and other arts-based processes.

Futurists and founders – discussions with futurists and founders of the industry can also provide food for thought about the underpinning assumptions of the industry and how relevant they will be into the future.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Matt Moore

    Sharon – I like this list. I’d also like to add the notion of “positive deviance” to the idea of peer-to-peer middle manager sharing. And possibly making middle managers more aware of their own networks within & beyond the organisation.

  2. Sharon

    Thanks Matt, I’d be interested to know how positive deviance is similar to, or different from the solutions focused approach – more reading to do.

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