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Neglect of middle managers bodes ill for corporate future, global survey finds

Peter Bradley , 17 May 2012

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Business fears a lack of attention to the middle management layer is damaging the leadership pipeline, a worldwide survey of just under 1000 reveals. Nearly half (46.2%) of businesses admit to poor investment in their next generation of leaders, according to a global survey by Harvard Business Publishing (HBP).

Four out of five (81.6%) of all respondents expressed specific concerns that their leadership pipeline would suffer without further investment targeting the middle management layer. Since the recession, leadership investment for this group has declined by 20%, revealing a significant disparity between the value companies place on middle managers compared to the investment they are willing to spend.

“The linkage between a strong leadership pipeline and long-term market leadership is critical for any European organisation,” said Ray Carvey, executive vice president, corporate learning and International, HBP. “Unfortunately, their commitment to development hasn’t carried through to mid-managers. Europe is facing a challenging economic time, and it's vital that firms ensure the leadership development of mid-managers, as they are critical for the future.”

Carvey added: "The frozen middle has not just been under-served, it has been ignored. With the economic situation meaning organisations are delayering and doing more for less, it has been less a case of managing the performance of middle managers but more about are whether they are just managing to do their jobs. The problem is that, if middle managers are not being developed it creates a bubble of risk inside an organisation. There can be a lack of oversight as well as meaning the talent pipeline is being cut off."

Two-thirds of respondents said their investments in leadership development ‘should’ increase over the next one to three years for mid-level managers (the highest of any organizational level – more than executives, more than frontline managers) indicating an awareness that they may have neglected this population for far too long, and recognize their importance for the future.

Justin Dunn, Head of Organisational Development, BG Group, said: “The ‘frozen middle’ is often a missed opportunity for companies. Managers who sit between the operation (those people who deliver) and the senior leadership team (who set the strategy) feel increasingly isolated. They have so much to give but are frequently ignored. The ‘frozen middle however, is the backbone of any organisation and companies need to listen to their needs to help give them the tools and techniques to help drive the company forward.”

The online survey of 962 people took place in March 2012. Three-quarters of respondents were at manager/supervisor level or above. Some 37% were from North America, 42% from Europe and 9% from Asia. Over 28% were from companies employing 10,000 or more. Only 23% of respondents described themselves as ‘mid-level manager’; 25% were ‘senior’ and 27% ‘experienced’ managers.

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