Middle managers are missing out on personal development due to a lack of time, job pressures and financial constraints, reveals new research from Ashridge Business School.
The research, "The Missing Middle: Exploring Learning Experiences of Middle Managers in the UK", looks at the formal and informal learning experiences of 569 middle managers.
While 73% of middle managers say that they work in an environment that claims to support learning and development, only a half (53%) are actually given sufficient time for learning -- and a quarter (25%) say professional development is seen as luxury in their organisation. The research also shows that over a third have current training needs in leadership (37%), people management (36%), strategy (21%) and influencing (20%).
Although the majority (78%) of managers have had discussions about their own development needs within the past 12 months and 77% have personal development plans in place, 80% say that they need to drive their career development themselves -- only 24% of middle managers have a mentor, career or life coach, but 65% would like one.
Hamish Scott, Programme Director, Ashridge Business School, said: “If middle managers are working in organisations that say they support their learning and development, yet only half of them are given time to learn, there is a real business issue here. Middle managers are an important part of any organisation, acting as a crucial filter between day-to-day operational demands and the board’s strategy. Overlooking this critical function is short-sighted.”
Formal learning is being overlooked with ‘time poor’ middle managers learning as they go, with respondents citing experiences such as stretch assignments, giving and receiving feedback and managing difficult conversations as key self-development experiences. As people progress through their careers, formal learning becomes more important, with respondents saying external short courses and peer discussion and support are seen as being more helpful.
At early stages of career development, the top three most effective learning experiences are perceived as being on-the-job development, shadowing an experienced person and external short courses.
Important self-development experiences for the managers surveyed were anchored in people management, rather than core professional skills. The top five self-development experiences were:
- Stretch assignments or working under pressure
- Giving / receiving feedback
- Leading / managing people
- Short courses / in-company programmes / professional training / formal qualifications
- Taking on a new project / role / stepping up.
Scott added: “All too often the focus is on senior leaders and future leaders when it comes to development. The research showed that middle managers value formal learning, as it provides personal insight as well as building confidence and developing skills such as people management, academic, technical and business skills -- but in reality these needs are not being met.
“We need to get the middle moving, inspired and fulfilled; this means investing in people development to equip them with the skills to do their job and keep UK business running smoothly. What organisations are missing is their need to invest in its whole workforce and not use middle management as a stepping stone position.”