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Middle managers' leaderships skills are a top L&D piority in 2010, Henley survey shows

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Developing the leadership skills of middle managers and equipping them to manage change are among the top learning and development priorities for organisations in 2010.

According to the Corporate Learning Priorities Survey 2010 carried out by Henley Business School, leadership development is the most important priority for all HR professionals.

The development of middle managers is considered extremely important with 67% naming it as their first or second priority, compared with only 35% rating leadership development for senior managers in their top five priorities.

Succession planning and attracting new talent are key priorities for 2010, both rising in importance from 2009.

More than two thirds of respondents (67%) see equipping managers for ‘managing change' as a specific development priority, though only 16% view it as an HR concern for 2010.

This inconsistency suggests the respondents - mainly HR professionals - feel they have dealt with the immediate aftermath of change, and may see responsibility for it now passing to managers, who need to be equipped to deal with it.

Six out of 10 (61%) said developing a coaching culture was one of their top priorities, although only 9% made it number one.

Just over half (53%) stated sustainability is a learning and development priority, but 68% ranked it between 3 and 5 in their top 5 priorities. It's on the agenda - but not at the top yet.

Developing the capability of the HR team featured in the top five priorities of 36% of the total respondents.

Respondents indicated a significant focus on leadership development in 2010 - particularly at middle-management level. They also anticipate focusing on high-potentials as they grow and develop to lead their businesses into an uncertain future. And 67% of respondents chose managing change as a specific development priority for managers.

Linda Irwin, executive director, corporate development for Henley Business School, said both the research and conversations she has with organisations show many are planning for the long-term, and not making budget cuts they may live to regret:

"Managing directors, CEOs, HR directors and learning and development professionals have adopted a pragmatic, level-headed, measured approach when faced with the tumultuous economic climate we have endured. As one respondent commented in the survey, his organisation's priority is to ‘ride out the storm that has been created by the recession without losing our A teams'. Rather than axeing development budgets and cutting leadership development they have focused effort on those individuals who they expect will lead their organisations into a future yet to be created. Softer skills in leadership styles and in coaching, for instance, that bring out the very best in people and facilitate team working are also a priority."

"It seems organisations are aligning their learning and development priorities with their business objectives more closely than they have ever done before. This research has helped us to redesign our Executive Education Portfolio to reflect the current priorities of organisations and those that lead them."

Henley surveyed 2,500 HR and learning development professionals to provide an up-to-date perspective of the learning and development landscape. Over 60% of those completing the survey were HR directors, vice-presidents or heads of HR or learning and development for some of the UK's largest employers.