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Don't Single Out Middle Managers

Monday, October 1, 2012
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I am responding to a June 12 news analysis I recently came across on HREOnline.com ("Rise of the Middle Manager?") discussing the rising importance of identifying and developing high-potential middle managers in the eyes of top business leaders, including CEOs.

I am an experienced HR professional and vividly recall, more than 20 years ago, a discussion at the C-suite level about the need to eliminate the middle-level managers in order to reduce costs and -- as the theory went -- increase the ability of senior-level managers to communicate directly with the lower levels of the organization.

This change in the structure from the traditional pyramid shape to an "hourglass" configuration turned out to be a disaster. By eliminating much of the middle-level-management positions, the responsibility for dealing with the front-line employees shifted to the senior executives who found that this was a daily chore instead of a periodic "trip to the trenches."

After the considerable press about the value of CEOs holding employee meetings in hangars, the workshop floor and the retail store, companies found middle managers were, after all, of great value in carrying out the policies, programs and communications of corporate message. So, slowly and without much fanfare, many of the jobs were quietly re-established -- but with moderation.

The issue of identifying "high-potential middle managers" and targeting their development is old hat and a flawed concept. Middle managers are no different than any other group of employees. The sad truth is that the organization should not try to pick "winners and losers," but should simply identify any employee, at any level, who performs better than most and has the desire to develop a career and the willingness to work toward that end. Career paths should include both specialist and managerial ranks, and be tailored for each employee. We have also learned that not all employees want to manage others or be members of the C-suite crowd. Experience tells us that not all high-potential employees turn out to be winners -- thus, the larger the talent pool, the better the chances of identifying the hidden gems in the organization.

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Finally, as we all know, talent-management strategies begin with hiring the right people in the first place. However, the talent-management program should be viewed in the broadest sense of the word, rather than through a narrow perspective that only includes what some employees consider the "crown prince" notion that some companies place on a limited number of employees. In short, all employees should be considered as candidates for the organization's talent pool, not just a few. The organization will benefit more from this broader strategy in the long run, and improve the bottom line at the same time. After all, isn't this the competitive advantage through human capital that we all seek?

Ronald C. Pilenzo

President and CEO

The Global HR Consultancy

Hobe Sound, Fla.

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