The modern workplace is increasingly agile and efficient in its operations and this has implications for how organizations should approach leadership development, especially when it comes to mid-level managers. The Lean Enterprise model introduced by Toyota in the 1970s has exploded beyond manufacturing and led to less hierarchical organizational structures and a deflated executive level across the corporate world. As a result, mid-level managers are increasingly taking on tasks previously handled by the higher-ups – strategy development and execution, critical decision making, and coaching or mentorship of entry-level managers and staff.
The increasing responsibilities placed on mid-level managers means that developing this group is core to success for today’s modern, lean organization.
Who are Mid-Level Managers?
Mid-level managers are the level between first-time or entry-level managers and executives. They have job titles like “senior manager” or “director,” and as this group takes on more and more responsibility, they are increasingly being recognized as leaders in an organization—a term previously reserved for the executive level. Given their position at the middle level, they have influence that reverberates up, down, and across the organization, making leadership development for these folks quite critical.
Keys to Successful Leadership Development for Mid-Level Managers
When creating leadership development programs for mid-level managers, it’s important to have a mix of formal and informal learning and development opportunities. Formal learning ensures mid-level managers are on track to developing the core competencies they need to be successful today and down the road. Informal learning opportunities provide knowledge and skills needed on-the-job.
Competency management is a structured approach to developing mid-level managers by ensuring they have or are on their way to developing the core leadership competencies they need to succeed. Start by identifying which competencies are success drivers for mid-level managers at your organization. Then create frameworks for using competencies to inform the hiring and development of mid-level managers. Develop formal learning paths for them that hone in on what competencies they need and when they need them to ensure they’re positioned for success at every step of their management journey.
Examples of core competencies for mid-level managers include change management, communication, and coaching or mentorship. For more ideas on management competencies, check out the top 10 leadership competencies identified by Harvard Business Review’s survey of 195 global leaders.
Just-in-time learning compliments formal competency management by providing a less formal way for mid-level managers to easily learn exactly what they need, when and where they need it. Mid-level managers are busy and have numerous responsibilities to their employees and executives. Make sure they have access to resources and refreshers at the exact moment they need them.
Just-in-time learning might look like bite-sized refreshers to support formal learning that a mid-level manager has taken. These refreshers can be spaced based on the forgetting curve to encourage retention. Alternatively, it might be a way for mid-level managers to look up and learn procedures, workflows, or tips at the moment they need them on-the-job.
Eighty percent of workplace learning is happening on-the-job through peer-to-peer, manager-employee, and team interactions. Social learning gives mid-level managers the opportunity to learn from their peers. Mid-level managers at your organization are likely already meeting with each other and having informal conversations on a regular basis. Take the opportunity to capitalize on these relationships and facilitate leadership development and improved performance by encouraging peer-to-peer learning.
Consider learning opportunities such as communities of practice, where mid-level managers can support each other in problem-solving and decision making. Also consider incorporating peer-to-peer coaching into your organization’s coaching model, instead of only the more common manager-employee coaching. According to Phil LeNir, co-founder and managing partner of CoachingOurselves, peer coaching “beings with reflection on recent managerial experiences in light of conceptual input.” Through peer coaching, mid-level managers reflect on and learn from each other’s experiences. The result, says LeNir, is “organizations develop the capacity to develop themselves”.
Unlocking these three keys to success—competency management, just-in-time learning, and social learning—will put your mid-level managers on the path to success and drive performance at all levels of your organization.
Kiara Graham is a Learning Strategy Consultant at D2L. Kiara has been working in the learning and development field in insurance, health care, education, and technology industries for the past decade. Kiara’s work on the future of work and learning has been featured by the Association for Talent Develop, Training Industry, Human Capital Institute, CFO Publishing, CLO Media, HR Dive, and others. As a Learning Strategy Consultant, Kiara works with D2L’s corporate and education customers in a variety of industries on change management, strategic planning, program design, and organizational transformation. Kiara holds an M.A. from Carleton University and lives in Hamilton, Ontario with her partner, 2 dogs, and 2 cats.
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