Tomorrow’s Middle Management Challenge

Middle management has been gutted like a trout since the recession started in 2008. Unfortunately, the job growth we’re seeing now isn’t rebuilding this class of managers: most of the new positions are at the bottom of the pyramid, primarily minimum wage and temporary jobs. In fact, out of the 260,000 jobs created in April, 60,000 came from McDonald’s.

The evisceration of middle management, combined with a swelling front-line work force, means that span of control is increasing. The burden placed on the remaining managers — already stretched thin by layoffs — will only get heavier.

This situation will challenge their ability to work effectively and execute daily, weekly, and monthly plans. And as I wrote last week, this necessitates developing clear organizational strategy; limiting the number of priorities each person is responsible for; simplifying systems and processes; establishing manageable cultural expectations; and finely honing individual skills.

Is your organization ready for this? Are you setting your middle managers — arguably the backbone of any organization — up for failure or success?

4 Responses

  1. David Bueford says:

    Mobility in management is one of the major reasons for middle manager demise. What does a professional manager bring to table the when they constantly skip from one division to another. When crunch time comes they don’t have the depth of their organization processes or familiarity with people to right the ship. This leads to depending on “teams” rather than experience to problem solve. A manager just like any other employee bring visible value to the organization.

  2. David,

    I’m not sure I agree with you. I think there’s a lot of value to be gained by rotating among various positions in order to develop skills and a holistic view of the business. Many Japanese companies, in fact, put new hires through a pre-set cycle of job rotations in their first three years. (That’s not to say it’s the right way to do it, only that some firms place a premium on developing broad expertise and knowledge in managers.)

  3. David Bueford says:

    I agree it’s definitely a balancing act for large firms. If an organization relies too heavily on non-organic promotion there will be many unforeseen issues. My experience has taught me that most seasoned employees will not uproot their families even for a promotion. Their knowledge an experience are now of lesser value (to them) in a larger organization. When this happens valuable people with potential shift to neutral. This leaves primarily the young newly hired and mobile to fill management positions. Great for new hires but how many existing employees feel alienated. Too many managers in rotation is nothing but organizational chaos, rank and file constantly trying to explain nuanced issues to their bosses. To little rotation and a company will lack innovation and fresh eyes. Finally I would like to see a study of ratio managers not being replaced, between those that rose organically or non-organically.

  4. David,

    Agreed. It’s as much art as science — and that’s why it’s so tough.

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