Efforts to improve the productivity and performance of Australian organisations are being stymied by inefficient and under skilled middle managers, according to a recent research report.
There are around half a million middle managers in Australia, and ATO data shows that 1.2 million Australians list their occupation as ‘manager’, according to the Australian Institute of Management which conducted the research report.
“Middle managers make or break an organisation,” said Tony Gleeson, executive general manager, Australian Institute of Management.
“They are the ‘bridge’ in organisations that connect the goals and strategies of top level management with the ambitions and work practices of lower level staff. Therefore, middle managers are crucial to the success of any productivity or change management programs.”
The research report, which took in 1,898 business people ranging from CEOs and business owners to middle managers and aspiring managers, found that middle managers in their organisations are significantly underperforming across the range of key indicators including people management, communication and leadership.
“It’s impossible to have a vibrant workplace culture and be a high achieving organisation, if your middle managers are under skilled and disengaged”
People management was ranked as the most important middle management skill ahead of communication and leadership.
However, the majority (52 per cent) of middle managers’ skills in people management are average or below average, according to their non-middle manager colleagues who participated in the survey, which was conducted in conjunction with Monash University.
Middle managers were ranked even more poorly by their colleagues on their communication and leadership skills. Fifty-five per cent of participants said the communication skills of middle managers in their organisations were average or below.
On leadership, 59 per cent said the skills of middle managers were average or below. Further, despite the critical need for middle managers to show leadership, just 24 per cent of middle managers said their leadership performance was being effectively measured.
The worst ratings for middle managers from their colleagues were on ‘strategic influence’ (70 per cent said skills were average or below) and ‘change management’ (69 per cent said skills were average or below).
Middle managers’ performance in the key skill of ‘overseeing staff performance’ was roundly criticised by colleagues.
An average of 59 per cent of survey participants said middle managers’ skills in overseeing staff performance in their organisations were average or below. Even 57 per cent of middle managers described their performance in overseeing staff performance as average or below.
“Middle managers were ranked even more poorly by their colleagues on their communication and leadership skills”
“It’s impossible to have a vibrant workplace culture and be a high achieving organisation, if your middle managers are under skilled and disengaged,” said Gleeson.
“It’s clear from the findings of our survey research and follow-on focus group session that the role and responsibilities of middle managers deserve much greater respect in the Australian workplace.
“Organisations need to ensure their middle managers are appropriately skilled and they must also give their middle managers the opportunity to show what they can do and measure them on their performance.”
He said too many middle managers are feeling ignored and unloved, and this needs to change if organisations are to drive productivity and performance improvements.
The survey, Middle Managers – Evaluating Australia’s Biggest Management Resource, found that 53 per cent of middle managers don’t believe their employers are fulfilling promises made to them and 58 per cent don’t think there is a good chance to get ahead in their organisations.]