Middle management is key to the success of your organisation

Written by Adrian Gaskell - 03 June 2011

Management has come in for a tough time lately.  A Monster.com survey ranked British managers as the worst in the world, whilst Ratan Tata suggested managers at Jaguar Land Rover lacked a suitable work ethic when he first took over the firm.

So it's great to see some research published recently that not only supports the role of managers but goes a step further in saying that they are the most important people in any organisation.  That's right, they are the most important people!

Whereas the Monster survey was a thinly veiled marketing piece, this latest research comes from heavyweight business school Wharton.  The paper by Ethan Mollick, titled "People and Process: Suits and Innovators: Individuals and Firm Performance", suggests that middle managers may have more influence on your organisations performance than any other group.  This influence is especially strong in knowledge intensive industries.

"It is in these knowledge-intensive industries where variation in the abilities of middle managers – the "suits" he refers to in his paper -- has a "particularly large impact on firm performance, much larger than that of individuals who are assigned innovative roles," Mollick says.

It supports the view of Peter Drucker.

“The task is to lead people. And the goal is to make productive the specific strengths and knowledge of every individual.”

The Middle Management Paradox

Yet despite this seemingly irrefutable evidence, middle managers as a breed are under appreciated and under valued.  Thomas Colligan, vice dean of Wharton's Executive Education said this recently:

"Many companies are seeing significant turnover in middle management ranks, and with significant turnover, they don't have the ability to execute strategy. Top management can spend all their time creating strategy, but without someone there to implement it, where are you at the end of the day?"

According to a 2007 Accenture survey of middle managers around the world, 20% reported dissatisfaction with their current organization and that same percentage reported that they were looking for another job.  In the same survey, the biggest frustration was not being appreciated enough by their employer.

5 steps to help you value your middle managers

Here are a few simple changes you can make to value the essential work your middle managers do:

  1. Train them - Despite the importance of excellent middle managers, just 1/5 of them have a management qualification.  Help them acquire the skills they need and you benefit you as an organisation and increase employee engagement.
  2. Offer coaching and mentoring - Personal development is a big attraction for managers at all levels.  You should be offering a variety of means of enabling this.
  3. Provide clear career progression - Most managers want to advance in their careers.  Are you providing your middle managers with the path to do so?
  4. Involve them - Create a business that is human orientated, not machine like.  Managers are people, they're not cogs in the machine, really involving middle managers and allowing them to participate in a change decision, design and implementation will lead them to have more buy-in and ownership so when they have more accountability.
  5. Communicate - Middle managers are essential conduits in getting strategy from senior managers to everyone else.  Any strategy initiative will need to go through them, so you need to communicate any plans clearly to them.

How do you get the best from your middle managers?

Adrian Gaskell

Adrian Gaskell

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