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5 Strategies to Engage Middle Managers

How to Develop and Engage Middle Managers

With middle managers battered by the rapid rate of continual change and the organizational strains this brings, organizations face an engagement challenge.  Further, Baby Boomer retirements are increasing.  This will put a further strain on organizations as they lose institutional knowledge and talented managers.

Fortunately, based on a past worldwide survey of middle managers by Development Dimensions International, there are five strategies that managers can still use to engage middle managers. 

These strategies are as follows:

Start With the End in Mind

Senior leaders should start by clearly identifying the key business drivers for the success of the company.  Once the leaders have identified these main factors and resources necessary for business success, HR can then use this information to identify the competencies that middle managers will need to possess.

From there, senior leaders and human resources align the organization’s talent management strategies with the business drivers. Once the firm’s recruitment, selection, development and promotion practices for middle managers align with business objectives, the middle managers will then have a clear sense of their role and the overall direction of the company.

To help middle managers succeed, identify the key business drivers for company's success. Then use this information to identify the competencies that middle managers will need to possess. Click To Tweet

Provide a Middle Management Talent Profile

Middle management positions can differ widely from one organization to another. This requires organizations to provide a clear profile of the talent qualities for high performing middle managers. Aligned to the business drivers, this profile clearly specifies what a middle manager must know, what experiences s/he should have, what s/he can do, and what personal attributes s/he must possess to be a high performing middle manager.

To help middle managers succeed, provide a clear profile of the talent qualities of high performing middle managers. Click To Tweet

Develop the Right Skills in the Right Way

Middle managers have unique developmental needs.  Further, because of the tendency of organizations to overlook this level of management, some middle managers have gaps in their management and leadership skills. Standard organizational development programs that (1) focus heavily on entry managers, (2) develop only the middle managers being groomed for advancement, and that (3) focus heavily on senior managers leave the developmental needs of other middle managers unaddressed.

Organizational development programs for middle managers need to be as varied as the group of middle managers themselves. An effective practice is to develop these programs from assessment results that identify critical performance and skill gaps.

Middle managers have unique developmental needs. Don't give them your standard onboarding and training programs. Click To Tweet

Support the Transition of Middle Managers to their New Role

Organizations often mistakenly assume that a manager’s past success as a front line manager will equate to success in their role as a middle manager.  The transition from front line manager to middle manager is actually quite difficult as middle management is a pure management role–a manager managing other managers.

Being in the middle is tough! Middle managers frequently struggle with delegation. They also need effective communication and interpersonal skills as they have to create alliances to affect operational challenges beyond their immediate scope of control. Finally, middle managers need negotiation and emotional intelligence skills to influence senior management when needed.

For these reasons, middle managers need a formal onboarding program to facilitate their success to their different leadership role. Effective practices include (1) developing a 100 day plan for new middle managers and (2) providing differential development and performance management goals for other middle managers as needed.

To help middle managers succeed, don't just give them sink or swim appointments. Provide formal onboarding and development opportunities to tackle the unique challenges of middle management. Click To Tweet

Actively Engage and Inspire Middle Managers to Meet Business Needs

There is no easy solution for engaging middle managers.  To be effective, middle managers need to understand the following how their role connects to the organization and supports the business vision.

Their motivational needs will vary. Different managers will value some combination of the following:

  • Autonomy in meeting organizational objectives
  • Opportunities to develop new skills
  • Recognition for their achievements
  • Participation in high performing teams
  • Selection to lead organizational projects

As senior leaders meet these needs, middle management engagement will increase.

While it is true that organizations will face some significant challenges engaging middle managers, it is not an impossible task.  Organizations can motivate this critical group of managers to meet workplace challenges.

Organizations should start their engagement process for middle managers by (1) defining what is necessary for business success and then (2) aligning the organization’s talent strategy to meet those business objectives.  Once alignment occurs, organizations can clearly identify the profile of a high performing middle manager, create the right developmental and support opportunities to facilitate their success, and engage middle managers with effective motivational strategies.


Video: Five Ways to Develop and Engage Middle Managers


Develop unique middle management onboarding and development programs from real world data. Use assessment results that identify critical performance and skill gaps. Click To Tweet
Written by Robert Tanner | Copyrighted Material | All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Robert Tanner, MBA

Welcome to my leadership blog. I'm the Founder & Principal Consultant of Business Consulting Solutions LLC, a certified practitioner of psychometric assessments, and a former Adjunct Professor of Management. As a leadership professional, I bring 20+ years of real world experience at all levels of management.

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