Middle Management Empowerment

Enabling Coaching for the Real Heroes of the Organization

Middle Management Empowerment - Agile OD

Middle = Leverage Point

Investing in Learning & Development for Middle Managers: It’s Really Worth It. Here’s why.

Takeshi Yoshida, Lifecycle

Takeshi Yoshida

Chief Coach & Founder

Agile Organization Development


No, no, no. They are not the fat nor permafrost layer.

It’s entropy, a state of energy dispersion. Middle management dysfunction is just a symptom of talent in the organization being in a state of disarray.

The middle managers are not the problem. The organization is the problem; it’s structure, process, culture etc. And once we know that, we can fix it. We can activate middle management.

Rock Stars and Super Stars

We coaches believe that everyone can shine. People who are not shining yet just haven’t flicked on their “switch.” It’s simply a matter of activation, and this is where learning & development, coaching, mentoring etc. comes in.

An important consideration for nurturing middle managers is to know that it’s not just “up or out.” There are indeed talent who are driven by upward mobility, i.e. “super stars.” But there are also talent that like where they are and what they do; they simply want to become more experts in their roles. These “rock stars” are also gems in your organization. (Kim Scott, 2017)

Healthy organizations need both rock stars and superstars. And there should be plenty of space for housing both: performing stars will create and bring in opportunities.

Add Coaching to the mix

There are many, many management tools, frameworks and models that are time after time proven to be effective, including modern approaches like Agile and Design Thinking. Encouraging and providing the learning opportunities for these tools are first steps that Organizations can take to empower middle managers.

The main means of acquiring new knowledge and skills is training. Therefore, training will remain at the core of any organizational learning & development program. However, training has its limitations; most notably on follow through.

This is where coaching comes into the picture. Training provides the opportunity to transfer certain knowledge and skills in efficient, uniform quality, while coaching gives coachees the personalized support to build their own abilities.

A mix of training and coaching (individual, group and team coaching) will most likely achieve a substantially higher yield (e.g. percentage of participants effectively applying the learnings from the training and coaching to their work environment) and impact (e.g. tangible business results attributable to the training and coaching) compared to training alone.

It will become complex: Operate Organization Development programs dynamically and iteratively

Organizations are complex systems. To make the middle management learning & development efforts create impact in the organization, sooner or later we will start noticing that the efforts cannot be made in isolation with other change, transformation and innovation activities happening in other parts of the organization.

As detailed in “Organization Systems Integration,” Organization Development programs need to be operated dynamically and holistically. My recommendation to handling the complexity surrounding Organization Development challenges, is to take steps to be in where the action is happening (“Gemba (現場)” as in Lean), run pilots and iterate to find out what works and not, and progress to a scaling strategy once formulas of successes are identified.

Finally, as external coaches, we place importance in making sure that the success is sustainable without creating further dependence on external resources. Therefore, the focus is on Organizational Capability Building. “KSA” (Knowledge, Skill and Ability, or Attitude, Aptitude) transfer is the key, and we do this in the form of “coach the coaches” and “train the trainers” to designated leaders, managers and other talent in the client organization.

Would you like us to help activate your middle management?