This post includes a number of links about middle management.

Andrew Hill wrote an article for the Financial Times titled Middle managers: the unsung heroes of this crisis.

« This is not to underplay the influence and importance of good leadership. But much of the strain of interpreting the uncertainty for worried staff is falling to managers, at a time when their own jobs, health, families, and financial security are under threat. »

Bob Sutton, author of The No Asshole Rule, agreed: “In every organization I know right now, leaders in the middle of the hierarchy are holding it all together.”

Hal Gregersen, author of Questions Are the Answertweeted a link to a Harvard Business Review article by INSEAD professor of  technological innovation Quy Huy titled In Praise of Middle Managers.

« I recently completed a six-year study of middle managers—in particular, their role during periods of radical organizational change.  » Huy identified found four major roles in which middle managers lubricate the organization and keep it running smoothly.

  • « The Entrepreneur.  When it comes to envisioning and implementing change, middle managers stand in a unique organizational position. They’re close to day-to-day operations, customers, and frontline employees—closer than senior managers are—so they know better than anyone where the problems are. But they’re also far enough away from frontline work that they can see the big picture… Middle management is thus fertile ground for creative ideas about how to grow and change a business. »
  • « The Communicator… Change initiatives have two stages, conception and implementation, and it’s widely understood that failure most often occurs at the second stage. What’s less understood is the central role that middle managers play during this stage. Successful implementation requires clear and compelling communication throughout the organization. Middle managers can spread the word and get people on board because they usually have the best social networks in the company. Many of them start their careers as operations workers or technical specialists. Over time and through various job rotations at the same company, they build webs of relationships that are both broad and deep. They know who really knows what and how to get things done. »
  • « The Therapist. Radical changes in the workplace can stir up high levels of fear among employees. Uncertainty about change can deflate morale and trigger anxiety that, unchecked, can degenerate into depression and paralysis… They know the people who report to them—as well as those reports’ direct reports—and they can communicate directly and personally, rather than in vague corporate-speak. »
  • « The Tightrope Artist. Successful organizational change requires attention not only to employee morale but also to the balance between change and continuity. If too much change happens too fast, chaos ensues. If too little change happens too slowly, it results in organizational inertia. Both extremes can lead to severe under-performance. Even during normal times, middle managers allot considerable energy to finding the right mix of the two.  »

Books referring to middle management:

In Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency, Tom DeMarco writes: “Change, particularly a significant one, involves reinvention… The key role of middle management is reinvention…. This is where the dynamic of today’s organizational functioning is examined, taken apart, analyzed, resynthesized, and assembled back into new organizational models that allow us to move forward.”

In Rethinking Risk Management, Rick Nason observes that middle management is generally where risk culture gets set.

In Only the Paranoid Survive, Andrew Grove wrote: “Middle managers—especially those who deal with the outside world, like people in sales—are often the first to realize that what worked before doesn’t quite work anymore; that the rules are changing. They usually don’t have an easy time explaining it to senior management, so the senior management in a company is sometimes late to realize that the world is changing on them—and the leader is often the last of all to know.”

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