There are many different roles in a work environment, but those that stand out and are most visible are the roles of leaders and managers that represent the company, specially the top ones. Readily available are numerous articles describing their role and their way of leading /managing people. Mostly described as a workforce are those on the hierarchy bottom: they work as they are told to. Here, I’d like to challenge your opinion whether they represent ‘the cost’ or ‘the asset’ of an organization. In between there is a number of intermediate managers being subordinate to the senior management but above the lowest levels of operational staff.
Duties of a middle management typically include carrying out the directives of senior management at the operational level, supervising subordinate managers and employees to ensure functioning of the organization. Middle managers are rarely a prime focus during the changes in the organizations because they are badly needed in order to execute whatever upper management comes up with. Since companies have slimmed down and cut out many organization levels they lack of the career advancement opportunities. In reality they are mostly the physical embodiment of the culture or rather bureaucracy level of an organization.
For decades, researchers and business people have assumed that what matters in the organizations is a process. In this, middle managers’ position is critical since they function as the facilitators, nurturers, and selectors of creativity and flow of the process. They decide or impede the dynamics of a system and of innovations. That is why at least two kinds of middle managers can be found in any organization.
Those that worry more about their position than deal with managing – we call them ‘chair-warmers’ since they in fact don’t contribute to the company. It’s the situation you can observe in large companies but are predominant in governmental offices. Nothing moves without their prior approval and no information passes uncontrolled by them. They actually have a power to bring the organization to a standstill. Self-preservation is a strong motive as is acting in one’s own interest also a human trait. The success of an organization is therefore to be obtained if all stakeholders (also middle managers) agree (and act) to mutual consensus: motivation to do what needs to be done.
The other kind of middle managers is good role players and could prove to be truly productive if properly guided. It all begins with the C-level management and depends on corporate culture which also plays a huge part in what is acceptable. If it is based on meritocracy, then it is good for people to focus on innovation and learning from mistakes. If it is a top down control and limited risk taking then we see more the above group of middle managers and the employees take an approach of “flying under the radar” and avoid risk principles.
“The original sin” with bad middle management is done by hiring poor C-level managers who are less capable and/or intelligent than organization needs. Accordingly, we have large companies with strong leadership and great corporate culture and then, we also have large companies run by managers whose main business is to make as much money as they can in a short period of time. In the latter organizations middle managers adapt fast and effectively take their share of a cake too. They are just trying to optimize their situation to reach their “success target/goals”.
There is also a well-known habit when larger corporations do not like to hire people who have broken out of a typical private company mold – as they tend to question authority, processes and management. Also, we see hiring some idealists who recently graduated from top universities to take jobs they are not prepared for. The lack of good middle managers is more than obvious. To change these ill practices re-education, work, motivation and mostly different leadership approaches should arise.
Do you agree?