Fri | Nov 16, 2018

Managing in the middle

Published:Wednesday | March 28, 2018 | 12:00 AM

The term 'middle manager' comprises a large swath of the overall global workforce.

In the United States alone, nearly 11 million people identified their role as that of a middle manager in 2012 according to The Wall Street Journal. In order for C-Suite leadership to implement strategic plans key to their critical and essential goals, they must rely on middle managers to execute, implement, and create buy-in with employees across the organisation.

A core function of a middle manager is to bridge the gap between C-Suite executives and the workforce at large. Insigniam's 2017 Middle Management Survey reveals that while many middle managers are motivated by the type of work they do, dire issues exist among many of those occupying the middle management ranks. Namely, issues related to declining opportunities to progress professionally, a lack of the decision rights to get their jobs done, and a disconnect with the people to whom they report. The ultimate insight from the survey?

The bigger and more plentiful the opportunity for making a meaningful contribution to the future of their enterprises, the more potent and satisfied the middle manager. A study conducted in 2011 by The Wharton School professor Ethan Mollick found that middle managers could have a greater impact on organisational performance than almost any other employee group in an organisation. The study also shows that middle managers are needed to help create innovations that lead to breakthrough performance in knowledge-intensive industries.

 

... Middle managers should be on the front line of championing new leadership tactics

 

When coupled with managers' preference to do the kind of work that motivates and inspires them, middle managers' desire to work with people creates a ripe breeding ground for employees who are excited to be part of a holistic solution that drives towards innovation and internal cultural shifts. Particularly, one that helps organisations experience breakthrough performance that equates with high success.

Even though middle managers may not be afforded opportunities to shift to a new role, they should be on the front lines of championing new leadership tactics and innovative practices through encouraging and managing others.

Middle managers' frustrations over their lack of empowerment in decision-making and the divide between them and their more enabled, more involved superiors can only last so long before they become a real problem.

Educational opportunities do help middle managers grow their experience and their expertise, however, middle managers still need to be able to apply what they are learning through professional education programme and training. If their roles do not expand to include additional competencies, this may continue the trend of managers feeling like they are not given the chance to tackle more meaningful work within their organisations.

Strong organisational alignment results when employees are empowered to lead at every level, especially middle management. Just as a misaligned spine cannot effectively support the body's weight, an asymmetrical organisation cannot support business priorities with the agility needed to seize new opportunities for growth.