No Image Available

Dominique Jones

Halogen Software

VP, Human Resources

Read more from Dominique Jones

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

How to retain great middle managers through better succession planning


What's the succession plan for your business? Dominique Jones gives us some insight into the process.

In a recent survey of 450 European organisations [1], almost half (48%) stated that ‘building a strong leadership team’ and ‘line management training’ (45%) were major challenges. This is against a backdrop of only one in five organisations being prepared for the departure of leaders.2 All too often the focus of leadership training and development is concentrated on the senior executive team – but the reality is that 70% - 80% of the workforce reports to a middle manager rather than a senior executive. In most organisations middle managers are the people who will support and motivate staff to meet the organisation’s goals. For these reasons, leaders at all levels of the organisation need to develop their leadership competencies while organisations need to support that effort with effective succession planning. 

Middle managers are playing an increasingly core role in translating organisational objectives into action and there is a shortfall of managers capable of doing that well. Line managers need to have the resources to set clear goals and expectations, to give both formal and informal feedback on a regular basis, to conduct productive one-on-one meetings and to support employee development. In fact, middle management is the most pressing short-term talent requirements for employers, according to ‘Developing Talent for the Future: Are you creating a sustainable culture for employees to flourish?’, a study by Halogen [2]. 59% of respondents identified a shortfall in middle management talent, compared with 8% seeing a shortfall at C level. 

Middle managers also carry out the increasingly vital function of connecting the strategic goals of the organisation to the tactical responsibilities of employees. To succeed in this they need to have strong people skills such as leadership and communication. Yet a Harvard survey [3] showed a chasm between frontline manager responsibilities and their effectiveness in fulfilling these responsibilities. In particular, the survey identified room for improvement on leadership competencies such as strategic and innovative thinking, developing talent and inspirational leadership – only 19% of respondents felt their managers delivered inspirational leadership.

The gap between aspirations and the reality when it comes to middle management leadership capabilities derives from a lack of leadership development. The vast majority of respondents (71%) said that frontline managers received training and development only occasionally or infrequently, with nearly half (44%) indicating a frequency of once a year or less. Only 14% said that their companies offered a comprehensive leadership development programme. 

Key factors to consider

To align development to organisational objectives, organisations need to ask themselves what core competencies best describe their culture and values and what leadership attributes the organisation needs. To answer those questions, it is useful to analyse the attributes of the most successful leaders in the organisation and define the leadership competencies they exhibit that contribute to their success. This exercise should be completed before deciding on the key competencies middle managers need to develop and most certainly in conjunction with an evaluation of the core competencies required for the success of the business. Then consider how to start to develop these in employees, particularly high-potential employees.

Training and development can underpin effective succession planning through the creation of a talent pool that feeds a leadership pipeline. This includes support for emerging leader programmes, 360-leadership assessments on which to base leadership development plans and regular interviews with high-performers to uncover what motivates them, for example.

Many organisations consider themselves too small to need a succession plan or they struggle to get executive buy-in for one. The fact is that not having an effective succession planning programme in place exposes the organisation to significant risk. Succession planning for leadership, especially at middle management level, should be strategic, in contrast with tactical replacement planning. The latter identifies one or two individuals who are ready and able to replace a leader at short notice, perhaps temporarily to cover in an emergency. It is not a strategy to ensure leadership bench strength long-term. 

Address the middle management leadership gap now

There are immediate steps organisations can take to address the middle management leadership gap.

  • Link long-term business strategy to the leadership components of job roles which are critical to the organisation’s success [4]. This should underpin any strategy to fill future positions. As a first step, establish clear, measurable goals that are closely aligned to organisational strategy. Make sure all key stakeholders contribute to setting SMART goals, embed these in performance management systems – and be prepared to evolve these goals to match changing needs.
  • Be proactive. Most organisations' recruitment strategies are reactive, with the majority only searching for new talent when there is an immediate need. If organisations don’t invest in employee and leadership development, there will be no leadership pipeline. Gaps in leadership roles affect business momentum and success. As well as planning the leadership pipeline and developing leadership competencies for future leaders, ensure existing leaders refresh their competencies too.
  • Train, mentor and develop middle management leaders rather than only recruiting externally – and you will reap the benefit in workforce engagement. It’s a lot easier to develop the workforce you already have than to continually recruit and train up a new workforce. This helps preserve institutional memory and knowledge and also increases employee engagement and productivity because employees understand there is support for building leadership competency.

Ensuring managers are well-trained and supported means employees will be better supported, engaged, and productive. This in turn means that organisations will achieve positive business outcomes, and be better positioned to establish their workforces as a lasting competitive advantage. 

Dominique Jones is Vice President of Human Resources at Halogen Software. She holds a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development Certification

[1] Halogen and People Management survey 2015, ‘Developing talent for the future: are you creating a sustainable culture for employees to flourish?’

[2] Halogen Software and Cranfield School of Management report, ‘Talent Management survey 2014, ‘Striving for long-term success’


[4] Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, sponsored by Halogen. ‘Frontline Managers: Are They Given the Leadership Tools to Succeed?’

No Image Available
Dominique Jones

VP, Human Resources

Read more from Dominique Jones

Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.

Thank you!