Middle managers: we didn’t miss ‘em until they were gone…

“Johnny, I hardly knew ya…”

Ok, I’m not Irish, and even if I was, you wouldn’t want to hear me sing that song.

 Are middle-managers making a comeback–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.

Here are a few thoughts to consider…

 1. We’ve been actively squeezing middle management out of the workforce now for well over a decade, and the cost has been significant. Thinking we were “doing more with less,” most have discovered that’s simply not true; we’re just doing “less with less.” More senior leaders are, today, simply doing what middle managers used to do. No elimination of the role, really, merely a headcount reduction and realignment of responsibilities.

 Employees are less developed than ever, and senior leadership has significant challenges in manager performance (see my 2012 Survey of Senior Leadership). And all of that was fine and good, and largely unnoticeable. Until it wasn’t.

 2. 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 unremarkable. 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.

 3. Leadership is essential for organizational success, of course, but so are Supervision and Management. 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 don’t have enough to do the job.

“Flattened organizations” sounded so good, so trendy. As did “leadership more in touch with the people.” Such is, however, the problem with using fads and cutesie catch-phrases to run a railroad. Reality slams you in the face.

 Middle Managers, please come back… we miss you.

 But that’s just me…


 Kevin Berchelmann

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