Reshaping the Middle of Organizations

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New Research from DDI and IED Reveals Best Practices for Mid-Level Development

Middle managers have more on their shoulders and need the skills to take on responsibilities

The roles of middle managers are changing and the success of that role requires more support than ever, according to new trend research from Development Dimensions International (DDI) and the Institute of Executive Development (IED), Strengthening the Middle.

To better understand what mid-level leaders need for their roles, DDI and IED interviewed talent management executives at 20 organizations around the world. Each discussed how their organization is handling mid-level development and rated their organization’s performance on a number of measures in mid-level development.
The best practices revealed from this study are:

Recognize there is a new skill set for mid-level leaders. Middle managers have more on their shoulders and need the skills to take on responsibilities. Interviewees discussed increased expectations on being financially savvy, as well as more responsibility around decision-making, and developing other leaders. “Mid-level leaders don’t necessarily have these skills in their toolkits right now, and organizations have to play a role in helping them acquire the skills,” said Kris Routch, Executive Consultant with DDI. The good news is that 3 out of 4 of the organizations interviewed were making investments in developing this group of leaders.

Put the accountability for development planning into the hands of the leader. Organizations interviewed gave themselves an average of 3.3 out of 5 when it came to how mid-level leaders share accountability for preparing and executing their development plans. Every leader needs a plan for their growth, whether it is derived from 360 data or formal assessments. Organizations thought that more time had to be put into what an individual development plan should look like and how leaders were going to build skills over time. One director of Global Talent Development said: “Development plans can help an individual leverage the assessment feedback they receive to create a personalized path for growth. While development planning may seem common sense, it is more challenging to make common practice.”

Don’t allow technology to cannibalize the face-to-face learning experience. Even with people spread across the globe and so many technology options available, most of the interviewees felt that classroom learning was still the most effective, and they valued the opportunity for role playing and peer networking. They felt that technology solutions played a role, but was most effective to reinforce what they’ve learned and to keep in touch with the networks they’ve built during in-person experiences.

Turn your workplace into a lab for leaders. When organizations looked at where new skills would be acquired, on-the-job learning was viewed as critical, allowing leaders to have learning experiences to zero-in on specific competencies and capabilities. Organizations are doing this through job assignments and special projects where they tackle organization-wide challenges and implement a change. A director of a global corporate university said: “The mid-level leaders have an opportunity to reconnect with the strategy and participate in intact learning experiences in teams built around the business challenges they are facing. This creates a common language, a critical mass, a tipping point for changing paradigms.”

Use assessments to diagnose where leaders are now—against where the organization needs them to be. To understand where leaders’ greatest gaps are, organizations are using 360 multi-rater instruments frequently, and are leveraging assessment centers more often for high potential leaders. On average, respondents gave themselves 2.4 out of 5 on how assessments and other diagnostics are used to guide training and development. “Assessing leaders isn’t enough—that data has to be used to drive individual development plans and provide direction on where the organization needs to focus its leadership development efforts,” Routch said. “This is where you’ll see the highest pay-off.”

Founded in 1970, Development Dimensions International, a global talent management expert, works with organizations worldwide to apply best practices to hiring/promotion, leadership development, performance management and succession management. With 1,000 associates in 42 offices in 26 countries, the firm advises half of the Fortune 500. For more information about DDI visit

IED’s mission is to drive innovation in executive development. We support business executives, Boards, and talent management professionals to benchmark their practices, design their strategies, and create high impact executive development services. More information is at:


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