Let’s talk about some of the unsung heroes of your organization — the middle managers. They’re often the ones translating the vision of senior leadership into actionable plans for their teams. They’re an essential link that ensures strategies are executed effectively and daily operations run smoothly.
For middle managers, their role is pivotal, but it’s also demanding. That’s why continuous training can be the difference between a burned out, underperforming manager and a well-equipped, highly-effective manager.
According to a Deloitte study, 86% of companies rated developing new leaders as the number one talent challenge they face. To overcome this hurdle, 98% of award-winning companies encourage participation in learning and development activities.
Editors Note: Looking for training for your Middle Managers and Leaders? Check out ERC’s Middle Management Training today.
Middle managers who go through continuous training and development are more capable of navigating on-the-job challenges, inspiring and leading their teams, and fostering a culture of growth. In this guide, we’re going to outline the middle manager’s role, needs, and strategies for continuous development.
The Role of Middle Managers
Middle managers play a pivotal role within organizations, serving as the linchpin that connects the organization’s strategic vision to tangible results. The responsibilities of middle managers are often broad and wide in nature and can include:
- Alignment with Organizational Goals — Put simply, middle managers help translate high-level strategic goals into actionable plans. They ensure that their teams are aligned with these goals and working together to achieve them.
- Day-to-Day Management — Middle managers oversee daily activities, allocate resources, manage schedules, and address any challenges. They must manage both up and down.
- Performance Reviews and Development — Just as middle managers need continuous development, so do their teams. They are responsible for conducting regular performance reviews and providing constructive feedback to their direct reports.
- Communication — In order to ensure that organizational goals are shared by all, middle managers need to act as communication hubs that can clearly and effectively communicate between senior leadership and individual contributors.
- Team Leadership and Motivation — Middle managers serve as leaders for their teams, crafting a positive work culture and motivating employees to deliver their best work.
- Problem-Solving and Decision-Making — When problems arise, middle managers are often the first line of defense to address issues quickly and effectively.
- Change Management — During periods of change, middle managers help their teams adapt to new processes, technology, or shifts in organizational strategy.
As you can see, the role of a middle manager requires a balance of strategic vision and practical skills.
Identifying Training Needs for Middle Managers
The first step toward developing new or existing middle managers is to understand their specific needs, which is usually done through a training needs assessment. The goal of a training needs assessment is to evaluate managers’ current skill sets, strengths, and areas requiring improvement.
There are a number of ways to conduct formal or informal training needs assessments:
- Surveys — Managers and their teams provide insights into perceived skill gaps and development needs. These surveys can include skills like communication, people management, time management, team collaboration, and other essential skills for middle managers.
- Performance Evaluations — Existing and past performance evaluations can shed light on training needs as well. Reviewing past project outcomes, team dynamics, and achievements can help pinpoint specific skills that may need further development.
- One-on-one Conversations — Perhaps the most straightforward method, having one-on-one conversations with middle managers to understand their perceived strengths and weaknesses can help uncover training opportunities.
Designing an Effective Middle Management Training Program
Effective middle management training often combines core skills that are essential to every management role along with customized training based on a training needs assessment.
The core skills that all effective mid-level managers should have or develop include:
- Strategic Leadership Skills — Effective leadership skills enable managers to guide, inspire, and align their teams with the organization’s goals.
- Management Skills — These skills allow managers to build cohesive teams, nurture individual growth, resolve conflicts, and create a positive and productive culture.
- Coaching Skills — Being able to coach individuals enables the fostering of individual contributor growth and collective team productivity.
- Employee Engagement — Being able to effectively engage employees leads to higher retention rates, improved job satisfaction, and increased overall team performance.
- Emotional Intelligence — Emotional intelligence (or “EQ”) allows mid-level managers to navigate complex interpersonal dynamics and empathize with their teams.
- Leadership Development — Not only do mid-level managers need continuous development, but they have the unique ability to empower the next wave of leaders within an organization.
- Financial Acumen — Knowledge of finances gives managers the ability to analyze budgets, make informed resource allocation decisions, and understand the financial implications of their decisions.
In addition to these essential skills, the results of a training needs assessment can help organizations design an impactful middle management training program. For example, if an assessment uncovers a communication shortfall, a manager training program can emphasize effective communication techniques and active listening.
Different Middle Manager Training Methods
When approaching mid-level management training, organizations have a number of options in terms of training delivery.
In-Person and Classroom Training
In-person training allows participants to engage in face-to-face interactions, exchange ideas, and build meaningful connections with one another. This can be particularly valuable for managers within the same organization going through training together.
In-person training provides a platform for immediate clarification and feedback, allowing participants to feel present and engaged. In fact, a study by the American Journal of Distance Education found that in-person training resulted in higher growth from pre-training to post-training based on test scores compared to virtual training. Learning in a physical space can also minimize distractions like email, phone calls, or messages, resulting in more focused participation.
Ultimately, the blend of personal interactions, hands-on exercises, and real-time engagement can make in-person or classroom training a compelling option for many organizations.
While in-person or classroom training has its benefits, there’s no doubt that in the past decade online training has become a viable option for organizations.
First of all, online training offers the flexibility that many organizations need by allowing participants to access training from various locations and time zones. It can be a solution to accommodating not only busy schedules, but minimizing disruptions to mid-level managers’ daily responsibilities.
As virtual training has evolved, so has the interactivity of the training itself. In addition to the flexibility that virtual training provides, it can also offer interactive tools like polls, live discussions, group exercises, and the ability to interact with the trainer in real-time.
Online learning can also be delivered live virtually or on-demand, with the latter allowing participants to access training at their convenience and pace.
Coaching and Mentoring
Coaching and mentoring provide the most personalized approach to developing the skills of middle managers. One-on-one or group coaching and mentoring programs allow managers to receive tailored learning that is highly applicable to their training needs and job responsibilities.
On-the-job training is the most immersive approach to managerial training, integrating skill development into a manager’s daily routine. Managers can bring up challenges and trainers can provide solutions using real situations rather than hypothetical ones. This type of training tends to optimize time utilization, minimize disruption, and empower middle managers to evolve their skill sets through practical application.
Encouraging Continuous Learning and Growth
Training and development for employees at all levels, particularly those in management and leadership positions, is a continuous and lifelong journey. While some organizations may opt to pursue management training in response to an issue or organizational challenge, highly-effective organizations view training as continuous and tend to be more proactive than reactive.
Based on ERC’s employee engagement research, the more quality training employees receive, the more they’re engaged.
For organizations, the value in providing continuous learning lies in equipping managers and leaders with the skills to adapt to a rapidly changing business landscape, effectively lead their teams, and foster innovation and growth.
But there’s a true financial return on investment to be had through investing in training as well; reduced turnover, increased innovation, and a culture of continuous improvement contribute directly to an organization’s bottom line. In fact, LinkedIn shares that strong leadership development makes companies 9x more likely to financially outperform their competitors.
For middle managers, continuous learning equips them with the skills and tools to be successful in their jobs — plain and simple. But these skills lead to powerful results in the form of nurturing self-confidence, providing personal growth opportunities, and creating a career path for top-performing managers.
Measuring the Effectiveness of Training
We’ve discussed many of the ways that middle management training can benefit an organization, though many of these benefits are somewhat immeasurable. Outcomes like increased confidence and resilience, improved relationships, and a sense of personal growth are meaningful but not always tangible.
The good news is that there are a number of ways that organizations can measure the effectiveness of middle management training in both quantitative and qualitative ways.
- Pre- and Post-Training Assessments — By comparing managers’ skill levels before and after training, organizations can gauge improvements in competencies.
- Employee Engagement Surveys — Assessing changes in team morale, communication, and collaboration through employee engagement surveys can provide insight into how training has influenced an organization’s managers’ ability to lead effectively.
- 360-Degree Feedback — Feedback collected from peers, subordinates, and superiors offers a well-rounded view of how training has influenced a manager’s overall management and leadership skill set.
- Performance Metrics — By analyzing projected outcomes, team productivity, and goal attainment levels, organizations can directly correlate improved management skills with enhanced performance.
Develop Your Middle Managers to Boost Your Bottom Line
In the ever-changing landscape of today’s business world, the role of middle managers has never been more important, nor has the importance of investing in continuous training and development.
Middle managers are the direct connection between an organization’s strategic vision and the practical execution of that vision. By understanding the necessary skills to translate strategy and goals into tangible results, organizations can develop an effective training program that has a direct and measurable impact on the bottom line. And the numbers speak for themselves: strong leadership development makes companies 8.8x more likely to have high-quality leadership and 7.4x more likely to have highly-engaged leaders that stay with the organizations (according to LinkedIn).
If your organization is ready to invest in the lynchpins of the organization, the middle managers, you can learn more about ERC’s Middle Management Training Program.