Trends toward flatter organisations have led some to question the importance of middle management. However, discussions at a recent Kiddy breakfast event suggest that it is a critical layer which HR practitioners are keen to address, though unsure how.
What is “the middle” anyway?
The catch-all title is often defined by position in the hierarchy – typically two levels below the CEO and one level above first-line supervisor – yet is perhaps more meaningfully defined by the focus of their work, in terms of time horizon (medium-term), functional activities (interpreting and communicating strategy and policy), skills (an emphasis on interpersonal skills), and organisational responsibility (primarily, coordination and integration). This makes middle managers the lynchpin of human capital management, yet 38% of UK directors believe their organization is “paralysed” by ineffective middle management and 40% identified this as the single greatest barrier to achieving company objectives.
Ultimately, middle managers are responsible for translating and implementing organisational strategy, and ensuring that the broader workforce is capable to deliver it. Yet, the reality is often that middle managers are not equipped with the skills or resources to achieve this: 98% of managers believe managers at their company need more management training.
Time for a re-brand
Given the importance of middle management for organisational effectiveness and performance, why is this group often overlooked in terms of talent development? More fundamentally, why is the middle rarely considered ‘talent?’
We must reignite the middle layer, and transform the middle into a desirable career destination in itself, as opposed to a stopping point on the way to somewhere else, or worse, a dead end where people get stuck. Middle management needs a rebrand, and a reboot.
Maximising the middle in your organisation
At Kiddy, we’re looking at the potential within the middle layer, and, how HR can tap into and unlock this potential. Keep an eye out for Kiddy’s ongoing research into this area. In the meantime, here’s some steps to re-ignite that all-important magic in the middle:
- Support middle managers to enable others
- Understand why middle managers are there and what they want from their career
- Communicate the possible pathways open to them
- Create lateral development opportunities for middle managers to become ‘masters of the middle’
 Kaiser et al. (2011), Differences in Managerial Jobs at the Bottom, Middle, and Top: A Review of Empirical Research, The Psychologist-Manager Journal, 14: 76–91.
 Hay (2007). Corporate Soufflé – is the middle giving way? Developing Middle Management. Hay Group, London.
 Grovo (2016). Good Manager, Bad Manager. www.Grovo.com