5 emerging economic forces changing mid-level management

Middle managers are some of the most frequently maligned characters in popular culture. The TV show The Office portrayed Michael Scott as clueless and irresponsible, a force detracting from the productivity of his workers, even if he displayed an uncanny talent for sales. He is the embodiment of a management theory known as the Peter Principle, which suggests that employees in hierarchical organizations are promoted for their skills in the previous job, which allows them “to rise to the level of their incompetence.”

In reality, middle managers play increasingly vital roles in the function of organizations. Strategic priorities from executives are often pushed down to middle managers, who must interpret broad goals while managing the integration of systems and leading direct reports through sometimes drastic organizational changes. Simultaneously, these middle managers must continue to meet the training and development needs of their employees. 46% of CEOs rate middle managers as their most immediate internal training priority, which reflects their vital role in organizational success.

The mid-level management challenge

Since the recession, five economic forces have begun to reshape the workforce as well as the nature of labor itself. In the process, these forces have continued to exert greater pressure on middle managers.

1. Impending wave of boomer retirements: With nearly 10,000 baby boomers retiring daily, millennials will comprise 75% of the workforce by 2025. This huge turnover in the workforce will require organizations to address declining organizational knowledge across key roles and develop more strategic succession plans.

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2. Millennial management surge: As millennials comprise an ever larger proportion of the workforce, organizations will have to deal with a new generation of leaders and managers. Millennials typically hold twice as many jobs over a lifetime as boomers do, and the rise of passive job search apps and tools make job mobility easier than ever. As a result, new managers will need the skills to lead teams with frequent turnover.

3. Geographically dispersed workforce: Fewer Americans move homes every year, a result of a technology-enabled economy that allows workers to access millions of jobs remotely. 67% of employees report an increase in the amount of telework they’ve completed over the last three years. Today’s managers must have the skills and competencies to lead remote teams and communicate effectively using digital tools.

4. Matrixed organizational structures: While matrixed organizations (e.g. cross-functional organizations where employees must work and report across various teams) are by no means new, the recession accelerated the growth of matrixed organizations by pushing an imperative to innovate on organizations struggling to survive. As a result, workers increasingly interact across functional and divisional lines, placing a greater priority on having workers and managers who are adept communicators and can influence colleagues, even without direct oversight authority.

5. Increased mergers and acquisitions activity: The total value of merged companies has nearly tripled since 2009, reflecting a slew of organizations seeking improved efficiency and economies of scale by merging with or acquiring other organizations. This holds true across industries, including media conglomerates, health systems, and technology companies. Often, middle managers lead the integration of units and systems within newly merged companies.

An opportunity to serve this urgent need

While organizations have typically focused training dollars on executive education or onboarding for new hires, mid-level training will become an increasingly vital business strategy over the coming years. COE units boast the flexibility needed to meet mid-career professionals’ unique educational and training needs.

Your unit might have the combination of experience serving working professionals, online or other flexible format programs, and customizable credentials that will appeal to individual employees and help your institution stand out as a prospective partner.

COE Well-Positioned to Support Mid-Level Goals


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