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C-Suiters: Don't Look Down On Your Middle


Pharmaceutical Executive

Every company director, executive and department head remembers the first time they tackled a real management issue. Perhaps it was settling a team dispute, or keeping the director at bay to protect the morale of the team.


Hamish Scott

Every company director, executive and department head remembers the first time they tackled a real management issue. Perhaps it was settling a team dispute, or keeping the director at bay to protect the morale of the team. Perhaps you navigated the task with great skill, diplomacy and aplomb. Or, perhaps, like me, there was a sense of impending doom as you searched for what sounded like a good mix of logic and tact while going home with a sinking feeling in your gut and a certainty that you were going to be ‘caught out’.

But you kept going; the wheels have to keep turning. After all, no amount of executive strategizing alone keeps the business afloat: it is the middle managers who keep the business stable, collectively generate and control a lot of revenue and make sure that junior employees are trained, nurtured, and produce results.

However, in this there is a real threat hanging over the pharmaceutical and healthcare sector. Middle managers are feeling underinvested in and say that they lack the skills that are crucial to making their level of the business operate successfully. In a recent survey* by Ashridge Business School (Berkhamsted, UK), the top three development needs cited by middle managers were people management, influencing, and leadership. There were encouraging results in that the majority of middle managers in the sector said that they have had discussions about their career development needs in the past 12 months, and nearly two thirds have personal development plans in place. But only half of middle managers say they have sufficient time for learning and development, and over two thirds say that they need to drive their career development themselves.

If middle managers are working in organizations that say they support their learning and
development, yet only half are actually given time to learn, there is cause for concern; the right boxes may be being checked, but there is clearly a lack of commitment to their progression. This doesn’t look good for organizational growth: it poses a threat to the current business operations through lack of sufficient skills to keep the operation running smoothly, and may lead to future headaches that no amount of painkillers will counter.

Senior managers need to firm-up their middle if they are to protect the business - and the sector - from the skills impacts that will hit tomorrow and into the future. This means not only listening to and acknowledging the needs of teams, but making sure that there is the right support to make sure that once an issue is identified it is resolved. By doing so, it is not just the individual that will start to perform better, but the team that they manage, as they transfer skills downwards and run a more efficient and effective team or department.

Senior managers need to consider the self-development experiences that their middle managers find important and valuable. For the pharmaceutical and healthcare sector these critical experiences are anchored in people management, rather than core professional skills, which is encouraging because it is the ‘softer’ side of a person’s skill set that can be nurtured and developed. Experiences such as working on stretch assignments, giving and receiving feedback, leading and managing people, formal learning and taking on a new project or role are all found to be highly valuable to middle managers.

Above all, we need to get the middle moving, inspired and fulfilled; this means investing in people development to equip them with the skills to do their job and keep the sector running smoothly.

*The Missing Middle: Exploring Learning Experiences of Middle Managers in the UK: survey of 569 middle managers across 6 UK industry sectors, conducted between November 2011 and January 2012.

About the Author
Hamish Scott is Programme Director, Ashridge Business School. The full version of this article will be published in June’s Pharm Exec Global Digest.

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