Middle Managers: We Didn’t Miss Them Until They Were Gone

In today’s business climate, where rapid change, technological breakthroughs and improvements define the quest for high performance, are middle-managers making a comeback—having a renaissance of sorts? The short answer is “yes.” The longer response includes some discussion around our success (if any) in eliminating their utility in the first place.

Doing Less with Less

The unfortunate truth is, we’ve been actively squeezing middle management out of the workforce now for well over a decade, and the cost has been significant. In many cases, we were thinking we were doing “more with less,” but as it turns out, most of us discovered that’s simply not the case; we’re just doing “less with less.” In fact, more senior leaders today are simply doing what middle managers used to do. No elimination of the role, just a headcount reduction and realignment of responsibilities.

But employees are less developed than ever and senior leadership has significant challenges in manager performance (see my 2012 Survey of Senior Leadership). All of that was fine and good and largely unnoticeable—until it wasn’t. Doing less with less is not a strategy worth repeating and certainly not the most efficient or effective way to stay ahead of the curve.

A Sign of The Times

Along came the meltdowns in 2008-2009, and the “all-hands-on-deck” mentality further camouflaged the mid-management shortfall. Everyone was micro-managing, so the lack of mid-management was mostly indiscernible. Now, however, as we emerge post-“near-depression,” we’ve discovered that senior leadership is incapable—from a bandwidth perspective—of managing day-to-day while dedicating brain-time to strategy and longer-term thinking. The workload is simply too much and the priorities are not working.

Supervision and Management-Still Key to Organizational Success

Leadership is essential for organizational success, of course, but so are supervision and management. After all, someone has to deal with daily performance challenges, behavioral issues and changes in tactical direction. These are not intuitive leadership roles, but those of experienced managers. And we simply don’t have enough time to do the job.

“Flattened organizations” sounded so good, so trendy. As did “leadership more in touch with the people”. However, as the present day scenario teaches us, there’s a problem with using fads and cutesie catch-phrases to run a railroad. Reality slams you in the face. And as we pick ourselves up off the ground and dust ourselves off, we are left with only one request— middle managers, please come back, we miss you.

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