Middle Management Rocks!

The Role of the Director

A funny thing happened on the way up the hierarchy.

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At what we call “Level 3”, the first level where a Manager manages Managers, strategy intersects implementation. At that intersection, the Level 3 role becomes vitally important to the execution of strategy and to talent management.

As we've seen, the function of a Level 3 – typically a Director – is to unpackage functional strategy. In other words, Directors plan and implement the systems and processes that will most effectively execute the strategy of their Manager, typically a Vice President. The target for these plans are the Level 2 Direct Reports of the Directors. The intent is to provide them with what is needed to lead the frontline toward flawless execution.

But Directors do so much more.

Level 3 is the first level of talent development. Directors are the first Managers-once-Removed (MoRs). Looking down two levels gives a Director a sufficiently broad perspective on the staff at the frontline to identify and mentor talent relative to the roles in her extended team. These high-potentials are intended to ultimately replace her own Direct Reports (the Managers), or to provide talent to other parts of the organization.

Level 3 is also the vital tri-level link. We’ve identified that the most effective means of ensuring organization-wide connection between roles and strategy is to deploy clarity of accountability and authority at 3 levels simultaneously: ie CEO/VP/Director, VP/Director/Manager, or Director/Manager/Frontline. The constant in these groups are the Directors. They become the force in an organization that observes, relates to and experiences all work at level, from strategy to implementation. Even aside from the tremendous institutional knowledge this provides Directors, the role becomes the vital link between levels to ensure that strategy is “washing” all the way down the organization from the C-suite to the shop floor. Simultaneously, they are ensuring that Best Advice is washing all the way back up.

Experiments in the 1990s to get rid of the Director level resulted in paralyzing gaps in organizational structure. We’re glad to see a growing appreciation for middle management since those dark days.

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