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Yetunde Hofmann



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Why is mentoring so important for middle management?

Executive coach Yetunde Hofmann explores the value of mentoring the middle management level and how to deliver a targeted development scheme that benefits them and the wider organisation.
silhouette of nine persons standing on the hill. Middle manager mentoring representation.

Middle managers have a crucial role in delivering your organisation’s long-term goals. Yet there are very few companies that provide training programmes tailored to their needs choosing instead to prioritise leadership development programmes for graduates, high-potential managers and C-suite level leaders. Establishing mentoring schemes for the middle level of your organisation is critical, not just for the skills development of this group but also for the benefit of their internal network of direct reports and senior leaders.  Let’s look at why you need to address this in your organisation, and how you can start building mentorship schemes to meet this cohort’s developmental needs. 

Why are middle managers so important to your organisation?

As a group, middle managers possess a huge influence over an organisation’s long-term success. Their proximity to both senior leaders and their direct reports means they have the most direct impact on the performance, productivity, and engagement of others.  They often have the lion's share of conducting management reviews, preparing for calibration meetings, deciding on pay increase distribution and completing online reports for individuals within their teams. Communication is also a key part of the middle management role. When companies are going through change, this cohort is responsible for creating a sense of certainty amongst their teams, despite facing uncertainty themselves. They are the go-to for sharing updates with senior leaders and translating strategy into meaningful targets and direction for their people.  Without the middle manager, strategy remains simply that – a strategy and one without hope of success.

Why do we need to mentor this cohort?

The pressures of the job and the importance of having boundaries are most acute in middle management. So having a mentor who has trodden familiar paths, and from whom one can have the benefit of their wisdom, is valuable.  Being able to glean advice, be challenged, and feel supported in difficult times can affect how they manage their direct reports. Navigating challenges with a mentor as counsel can help them feel more confident in making decisions and taking action as leaders. Likewise, learning from others who have been in their shoes can prevent mistakes from being repeated. When people leave a company, it’s often for one of these four reasons:
  • career move;
  • financial reasons;
  • location change for personal reasons, or;
  • a bad boss. 
And that bad boss is often the middle manager. Therefore, it is vital to ensure this group is trained, engaged and supported by the organisation to prevent a trickle-down effect of disengagement. 
Set transparent guidelines for the programme to help mentoring pairs get the most out of the experience.

How can we get started?

As leaders, we need to look at how we can engage and mentor this group, not only for the benefit of their development, but for the future of our talent pipelines and strategies. Here are four key things to consider when shaping a mentoring scheme for the middle.

1. Define the parameters with the help of those involved

When designing a mentorship scheme, it’s important to involve members of the groups who will benefit from its creation in the decision-making process. Learning what they need and designing it to meet these requirements is paramount to delivering a relevant, tailored training programme. Select participants who are more senior and come from various areas of the business who can address the specific needs of the middle management group. Looking outside of the immediate span of control or the same department will be more effective at enabling open communication that is free from fear of judgment or retribution. It also has the added benefit of improving cross-company communication and understanding. 

2. Set guidelines for participation

In the first instance, set transparent guidelines for the programme to help mentoring pairs get the most out of the experience. Providing guidance around how many meetings to host and what to discuss in each can help things stay on track.  Likewise, scheduling a formal review at the scheme’s midpoint will enable you and the participants to check in with their progress in comparison with their initial goals. This can also be used as an opportunity to realign or rethink the pairing should the mentoring not work for either or both parties. 

3. Align the scheme’s goals with your organisation’s strategies

Mentoring is more than just a series of catchups between two employees from the same company. To get the best out of it for you and for your teams, you need to create the best partnerships which align their goals and objectives with those of their mentor and the wider organisation. Brief the pairing on the overall purpose of the mentoring programme, what it’s there to achieve and why both parties should participate. This can help them better understand the benefits on a personal and organisational level. Mentors should also be briefed and made to understand their role and responsibilities, and held accountable for their involvement. 
Your responsibility goes beyond the bottom line

4. Create safe, inclusive spaces for partnerships to flourish

Creating a safe space whereby mentees and mentors can confide in each other, without judgement, requires an environment built around love. When you operate from a place of love, you understand and value the unique talents, strengths, and beauty we each bring to the world. Your responsibility goes beyond the bottom line to focus instead on delivering the best for the people, customers, and communities you serve.  Training on allyship, sponsorship and biases is important to create an inclusive space for both mentor and mentee. It can help create a sense of belonging that drives equality and inclusion in the workplace, as every employee feels their voice and experience are valued. 

What’s next?

Mentoring can be a hugely positive experience for both sides of the partnership, driving engagement, improving retention, and strengthening your organisation’s talent pipeline.  Prioritising this development opportunity for your organisation’s middle management cohort will not only strengthen their skillset but deliver positive, widespread impacts that can put you on the right course to deliver your objectives as a team.  Interested in this topic? Read: Unlocking the power of middle managers

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Yetunde Hofmann


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