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Middle managers get no love

By AB+F Journalist posted Tue, Feb 18, 2014 12:45 AM
Author: Vish Teckchandani

Whether it’s their own direct reports, team leaders, senior management or the board, everyone seems to think that middle managers do a less than impressive job.

A report by the Australian Institute of Management, conducted with the help of Monash University, said the results suggested that many middle managers are underperforming and dragging down business performance as they lack core skills.

Among the criticisms of the Middle Management Survey of 2000 business people including CEOs, senior executives, middle managers and aspiring managers:

• People management: 52 per cent of middle managers have average/below average people management skills, according to their colleagues. Yet survey respondents state that ‘people management’ is the most important skill required by middle managers.

• Staff performance: The overwhelming majority of respondents (an average of 59 per cent) rated middle managers’ skills in overseeing staff performance as average or below average.

• Communication: Communication is also seen as a fundamental skill with 91 per cent of all the business professionals saying it is ‘important’ for middle managers to have the necessary skills to deliver ‘two way’ communication up and down the organisation. However, 55 per cent say that middle managers’ skills in this area are average or below average.

• Strategic influence: Non-middle managers are particularly critical of middle managers’ ability to exert strategic influence. Seventy per cent indicate that middle managers lack proficiency in this fundamental skill.

What stress?

Yet, if you thought middle managers across corporate Australia were taking heat from the criticism of everyone around them – even their own kind – you’re wrong.

Middle managers have one of the lowest levels of stress out of all the employee groups surveyed. Just 26 per cent of middle managers say they are stressed, compared with 44 per cent of CEOs and board directors and 40 per cent of professional and technical staff.

“This is a pointer that middle managers are ‘switched off’ or are not aware of the workplace pressures they are under,” said Tony Gleeson, executive general manager at AIM.

“Our survey shows that the performance and capabilities of Australia’s army of middle managers are being seriously neglected.

“Clearly, it is imperative for middle managers to take a much more critical self-examination of their skill sets. In doing so, they need to better connect with those senior executives they report to and with those people who report to them and gain a clearer understanding of how they are rated as middle managers.”

He said if organisations are to maximise their performance in a marketplace that’s becoming more global and more competitive by the day, they need to ensure that middle manages “are a positive asset, not a hindrance”.

Organisations should consider corrective actions such as a comprehensive training and development program for middle managers, he said.

Middle managers make up one of the largest segments of the workforce, numbering about half a million, according to AIM.

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