Check out this great post by Harvard Business School Working Knowledge online newsletter. It discusses an interesting observation that while many management models now emphasize networks over hierarchy, the work that middle managers do is still needed. What this means is that when the leaders and consultants are focused on the newer business models (that largely ignore or discredit the middle management function), the middle managers end up with the short end of the deal because they need to keep the work flowing. Said another way, these new models are not quite cutting it and middle managers are left to pick up the pieces.
One could form the opinion that this point of view is expected from traditional b-schools (article is in Harvard’s newsletter, the research and article was written by a Stanford prof) because they stand to benefit from continuing the status quo.
While this might be true, I also think they are on to something here. Here’s a provocative quote:
“Could it be that we have been fighting the wrong war? That organizational nirvana does not lie in battling against human hierarchies, but rather in learning to modify and tame them, and in helping people learn how to work effectively and live meaningfully inside them? Perhaps it’s time to stop trying to persuade managers and other organizational employees to behave as though they are not occupants of authoritarian hierarchies, when, in fact, that’s exactly where they live.”
The author acknoweldges the complex and important nature of middle management. My regular readers know that this is a tune I sing as well. Here’s another quote from the article:
“Who must be aware of organizational power in all its forms? Who must integrate conflicting humanizing and systemizing forces? Who else but middle managers-the men and women ensconced on the rungs between the bottoms and the tops of big organizations’ hierarchical ladders. It takes experience, a sense of self-worth, savvy, and skill to balance on these rungs, to maintain one’s personal integrity and humanity and still help the organization get serious work done.”
The article offers several other good examples and paints a colorful picture of the difficulties that middle managers face.
I highly recommend checking out this article!
P.S. Just a reminder for my newer readers. I believe that being a middle manager can be a very exciting and meaningful work experience. Middle managers are in the thick of things and have more impact on company results than most other positions. Unfortunately, far too few middle managers and senior managers see it this way. My aim is to change this and by doing so improve corporate results and manager satisfaction.