Neither at the top nor at the bottom, but somewhere in between, lies an important but often overlooked group of employees.
Middle managers tend to receive less attention than executive leadership or new joiners. For the past decade, Wharton and Ivey Business Schools have emphasized the importance of this “quiet engine of growth.” Over the past few months, McKinsey has published a series of articles and webinars to shed light on the role of middle managers in organizational performance. Based on these insights you’d think more organizations would focus on this employee segment.
Too few do.
In our career coaching practice, we found it’s not just about managers; mid-level professionals (subject matter experts and individual contributors) also hold the keys to engagement, productivity, and employee retention. Based on what we’ve observed this group plays a vital role in connecting and integrating people and results. Despite this knowledge, some firms stopped investing in this group years ago to focus on executive leadership, high potential talent, or new joiners.
It’s a tough job, and one that Wharton management professor Ethan Mollick believes “may have a greater impact on company performance than almost any other part of the organization.” Mollick recommends businesses to pay closer attention to their middle managers because they “may be the most important people in your company.” Allocating development investments in mid-level employees and tenured professionals, this group becomes a powerful driver of organizational success.
These employees are the Swiss Army knives of an organization — responsible for allocating resources, communicating between hierarchies turning strategic goals into day-to-day execution.
Over the past three months, we’ve worked with mid-level professionals with 20 plus years of experience, providing them with individual and small group coaching sessions — these professionals had never had the opportunity to participate in career coaching before.
McKinsey suggests unleashing the power of the middle starts with organizational structure and role design. No doubt this helps.
We found something more fundamental at play. During our coaching sessions, everyone shared a similar story — no one had ever inquired about their strengths or career aspirations. Most of the conversations, if any, were focused on execution and meeting objectives.
What happens when we invest in the middle and when we ask different questions?
When you invest time in asking simple questions like, what have you learned this year, how would you define career success, or what are you looking forward to at work? and change the conversation by asking different questions and taking time to listen, it has the power to transform the organization from the middle.