Middle-Management Crisis Escalates

As if we didn’t have enough to deal with in today’s chaotic U.S. business environment, another obvious crisis is quickly rearing its head and must be seriously dealt with before it gets out of hand. Unfortunately, many organizations have not or are not able to recognize this challenge as the crisis it is.

It’s interesting to note a growing concern by many of our clients in refocusing their efforts on the development of their mid-management levels. Most are not doing this because of an interest in developing their future leaders … it’s being done, wisely, as a survival strategy!

Media at every level is reporting the increased stress levels and challenges facing businesses today for an alarming number of reasons, which include global competition, rising prices, expensive technical enhancements, decline of the dollar, consumer fears, political turmoil, and threats of a recession that many say has already arrived.

At a time when most organizations are therefore required to do more with less, recent reports from staffing professionals indicate that the attrition rate among middle-level managers has risen to 20 to 25 percent. And, if measures are not taken, this situation could worsen profoundly in the next two to three years.

The role of the middle manager has become all the more crucial simply because they are the liaison between the frontline staff and senior management. If top management is described as “thinkers,” then middle management represents the “doers.” They have the capability to make or break the company as they harness the potential of the entire staff in their effort to achieve organizational goals.

While experts agree that there is a scarcity of middle-management talent today, many feel that the organization itself is to be blamed for this development. This condition has emerged and continues to grow because leadership had ceased or minimized investments in training at this level and no longer develop their future leaders as thoroughly as they once did.

We’ve been fortunate over the years to consult and train in a wide variety of industries and organizations of every size all over North America. While diversity is apparent, we’ve witnessed countless similarities in both leadership and middle-management behavior in the last few years.

As we’ve worked with newly appointed managers and supervisors, several identical concerns have been voiced again and again. See if they sound familiar. From middle-management, we’ve heard:

  • “I was outstanding in my individual performance and, as a result, was promoted to a position of leadership or supervising others. However, I knew nothing of the skill set required to lead and develop others. I felt that, overnight, I was expected to produce immediate results with little or no training or development.”
  • “I feel as though I was simply thrown into the fire and expected to learn through experience alone.”
  • “After my promotion, I heard nothing in the way of expectations or goals. I was just told to get to work. That’s very difficult to do with no training or preparation. I’m considering a return to my old position where I knew what I was doing.”

From leadership we hear comments such as:

  • “Time, budget, and current challenges simply don’t allow us the luxury of developing our middle-management staff to the degree we’d like to.”
  • “While we’d like to see more training and development of our mid-managers, they seem to be handling things as well as can be expected at the moment.”
  • “Fortunately we’ve had few, if any, complaints from middle-management staff thus far and we plan to focus more on their development as soon as things get back to normal.”

First, of course, reality tells us that we shouldn’t expect to return to “normal” anytime soon, if ever.

Second, how would you know if they couldn’t be doing an even better job if they had the proper training, development, mentoring, and expectations?

Developing this critical group of employees should be viewed as a necessity rather than a luxury.

We must realize that until reaching this level, these employees have been doing what they’ve been told. NOW … we’re asking them to think, problem-solve, and make decisions, as well as lead and develop others to do the same.

Top leadership today must realize that it is indeed crucial to mentor, nurture, and grow productive middle-management talent.

We congratulate those who have recognized this challenge and opportunity and have taken the necessary action to deal with it successfully. They will enjoy a substantial return on their investment in the future.

Those that refuse, for whatever reason, to acknowledge the seriousness of this issue or delay action in dealing with it, will pay a price which could prove to be extremely costly in a number of ways.

About Harry K. Jones

Harry K. Jones is a motivational speaker and consultant for AchieveMax®, Inc., a company of professional speakers who provide custom-designed seminars, keynote presentations, and consulting services. Harry's top requested topics include change management, customer service, creativity, employee retention, goal setting, leadership, stress management, teamwork, and time management. For more information on Harry's presentations, please call 800-886-2629 or fill out our contact form.

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