Why middle managers hold the keys to the future of work

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Exploring the evolution of middle management and its expanded impact on business outcomes

Bill Schaninger and Bryan Hancock share insights from their book, Power to the Middle, which uncovers the frameworks leaders need to empower their middle managers.

The quality of your middle managers makes or breaks employee experience. They account for 70% of the variance in their team’s engagement. Yet, despite their influential role, only 20% of managers strongly agree that their organizations help them be successful as people managers.
Power to the Middle, a new book written by McKinsey’s Bill Schnainger and Bryan Hancock, is here to change that. The authors shared some of the key findings from their research on middle management, including an overarching need to reimagine the responsibilities these crucial team members take on to keep them at the helm of one of their organization’s most important roles: fostering talent. 
“Businesses discovered along the way that they could cut cost out of a function and push it towards the manager, “ explains Schaninger. “The repeated line of ‘Because we can do it, we should do it’ often has one backstop and that’s the middle manager. To the point that the one thing they’re not actually doing anymore is talent development and managing people,” he concludes. 
Hancock explores how technological innovation is paving the way for more impactful management practices.“What’s exciting about some of the new technologies is they help managers be even better.  [By] being able to track the capabilities and the skills their people have over time, I think you can get a pretty robust understanding of what managers are good at what. And if we can understand that, then we can match them to some of the jobs where those underlying skills as a manager are going to be most important.”
Rather than leaving middle managers to navigate the working world’s new challenges alone, both Schaninger and Hancock encourage leaders to rethink their role to put talent development at the center of it. 

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3 visionaries, 1 strategy: Al Gore, Arianna Huffington, and Josh Bersin’s predictions for the future of work

Changes in middle management underscore the overarching priority to reimagine how work gets done. Rather than relying on outdated models, executives need guidance from visionaries who understand how to harness cutting-edge technology to create brighter futures. Download this report to gain insights from Arianna Huffington, Al Gore, and Josh Bersin on what it takes to thrive in the new reality of work. 

‣Top takeaways

Bryan: “Now, with how much more dynamic organizations are, you really need managers to become navigators, to be coaches, and that’s why I think now we’re seeing in this moment, while the narrative in the 90’s was ‘hey middle managers are this bureaucracy layer’, I think now what we’re seeing is middle managers are actually critical to the way work is going to get done in the future.” 

“I think we have to be more thoughtful about everyone who gets to wear the badge and say ‘I take the responsibility of leading people in this company.’ If you viewed it from a risk lens, we likely wouldn’t make many of the appointments that have happened. Just think about it as an amplification effect—bad leadership is the gift that keeps on giving. It is a negative derivative. And now we’re faced with this retention problem where at any time, 40% of the place is thinking about leaving. And that often starts with who they’re working with.”

“The capability to track the skills people have over time, I think you can get a pretty robust understanding of what managers are good at what. And if we understand that, then we can understand what managers we should match to some of the jobs where those underlying skills as a manager are going to be most important.”

“By disposition, you have a higher likelihood of success if your managers prefer to be in a team context, they have a high orientation towards achievement, and they do not view it through the lens of the impact on me first. That stuff lets you know if, just in their make-up, they have a chance. You still have to fill in on the skill front, and look at the role and decide if a good general leader can do that or if they need technical skills.”

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