You are in your early 40s and regarded as the key ‘handy’ lady of your manager who oversees the entire regional businesses. After five years of doing various strategic projects, you feel it’s your time to own something – a small market or product line.

You speak to your manager about it. She tells you that she will look out for you but perhaps there are still other strategic initiatives you could help to drive within her office?

You feel stuck. You wanted to learn more and do more but told to wait a little longer. You wonder whether it’s time to look elsewhere, and the itch gets bigger.

Without a doubt, when it comes to concerted career planning, organizations tend to focus on their younger workforce especially the first line and middle management.

However, the upper middle management is an important segment of the workforce that requires primary engagement and career planning as well.

This is the executive just one or two levels below the C-suite. In large organizations, these managers hold large spans of control with major responsibilities.

In a large MNC operating globally or a regional conglomerate with multiple lines of businesses, these executives are usually a member of the leadership team or a key member of the shared services function. In some instances, they could be those individual contributors with specialized expertise.

Engaging this segment of executives on their future career path is highly critical. Many could possibly be next in line for the C-suite jobs. Even if they are not, they hold pivotal positions to translate corporate level strategies into concrete deliverables and make the corporate vision alive.

On the other hand, they could very well derail opportunities for organizational transformations if they were to lapse in their drive and strive for results.

Yet career development planning for this level can be paradoxical.

Framing the opportunity is the key dilemma. What if the executive’s aspiration appears divergent from the corporate leadership or board? Would the executive choose to stay or look for alternatives?

The fallout would be fatal if the executive could step into a C-suite role in another organization. Would it be better to remain silent and allow the executive to slog on in his current role? Until the opportunity manifests itself or the harsh reality dawns upon the executive when another peer or external individual ascends to the coveted C-suite role.

In reality, silence is not golden. In good or bad economic times, a talent with senior management potential is scarce. In not engaging upper middle management talent on their career path would only leave them to look out for themselves. They could assume that they have reached their endgame within their current organizations.

In an era where retirement age gets prolonged further and further due to household demands, to engage and retain this talent segment at the corporate level is a key lever in the war for talent.

When engaging senior level executives in their career development, we should potentially consider the following:

  • Integrate the process with the organization’s succession management framework. Include strategic workforce plans and compensation benchmarks as this talent pool comprise of middle and first line managers. Their career movement would have a direct impact on the advancement of talent down the line.
  • Engage the executive and his manager on the career aspirations. Consider key strengths. How and where to play the strengths. Anchor the dialogue on stretch possibilities to grow new and pragmatic skill-sets on the job complemented by formal training and coaching.
  • Manage the joint accountabilities for career development of this talent pool. While career development is a personal responsibility, a primary accountability of each C-suite leader is to build and strengthen an organization’s entire base strength. The performance scorecard of an organization’s leadership team should encompass the identification, growth, and mobility of talents. It should not just have and keep talent within their own businesses.

It’s never too late to unleash the full potential of talents moving into the prime their careers. However, we do need to uncover the latent opportunities with the talents before their itch turns into sores.