Business Magazine

Why Middle Management Isn't Dead

Posted on the 17 May 2011 by Alanhargreaves @RechargeToday

It’s more like re-birthing

It’s fashionable to say it’s over for middle managers. The theory goes that everything they did before either is, or will be, sorted out by new technology.

I don’t know what businesses these people are talking about. But let’s take an obvious candidate – Information Technology.  Change in that industry is rapid, and technology is increasingly complex. But I have yet to find an IT company that isn’t dependent on sound middle management to make sure they can reliably deliver their services.

Middle management is not dying; it’s being redefined. The skill set is changing, but it still requires skill. Someone has to make sure that something is happening. Try running any business where you don’t have a strata of middle managers to ensure that strategy is turned into action.

This is not is confined to IT. The management of any business is increasingly complex. Thanks to technology, we have dramatically more sophisticated monitoring systems. Executives are overwhelmed with information, from KPI analysis, market segmentation or ROI assessment through to complicated customer, staff or supplier ratings.

Handling complexity

There is simply too much going on. To get through this, executives need to simplify their decision-making to a few key areas and delegate the rest. The people they will delegate to are those with the capabilities that make up the new middle management skill sets – the people who run the help desks, the CRM systems or the teams of “people-facing” employees.

Middle management is a skill in itself. Anyone who is in senior management knows the value of these people. They themselves were usually one at some stage. It’s great ground for career development. Running any team is an apprenticeship in leadership and collaboration.

People say that middle management is being outsourced. Exactly who do they think are managing those outsourcing firms doing payroll, procurement or logistics?

There's more of them, not less

When MIT professor, Paul Osterman, did a thorough study of middle managers, not only did he find there were more of them, but they were more productive, more autonomous and actually got more pleasure out of their job.

That’s good news. It means we haven’t lost sight of the most basic ingredient in management success – someone has to take action; someone has to make it work.

Yes, some careers stop at middle management, but according to Osterman’s research, a lot of them are happy about it.

Great leaders also emerge through the process. If you read the biographies of great business leaders, their resumes invariably include periods when the positions they held could only be described as middle management. Often that was the platform from which they launched their move into corporate leadership.

Love your middle managers. They are crucial resource, a means of making things happen – and the likely source of the leaders who will eventually run your business. Be glad that they will know their stuff when they get there.

There's more about managing complexity and generating action in the book Recharge. You can buy it online here.

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