Article (October-2021)


Middle managers should learn the art of repairing The Human

Dr. Naresh N. Mehta

Designation : -   Thought Leader and a Facilitator

Organization : -  Whole System Transformation and Strategy Management


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How do you decode the Middle Riddle? What are the most relevant issues involved with middle managers in the organisations?

NN The middle managers are secreted assets of an organisation and they play a pivotal role to achieve business objectives. While the top and senior managers are responsible to craft business strategy, the middle managers are responsible to deploy various tactics for effective execution of business strategy. When it comes to organisational vitals such as maintaining tiny pulse in terms of employee engagement, enhancing the abilities of their subordinates, motivating team members, and providing opportunities to staff for demonstrating their knowledge and skills, they are "unsung superheroes" of the workplace. When it comes to communication of shared vision, goals, and strategy, they are the lifeline of the organisation. They are "superhuman beings" when asked to provide psychological safety to their teammates, their retention through rational and emotional engagements, their professional career development, reward and recognition of their teammates, fixing their compensation, addressing their social needs and grievances. They are worriers when the top and senior managers shift the decision-making related to everyday operations to their middle managers who are closer to operations and customers to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of the organisation. Further, middle managers are responsible for managing the daily workflow of their team. Their goal is to make sure the day-to-day tasks of their staff are meeting the overall objectives of the company. While working in this role, they make sure employees are staying focused on their work. In a true sense, middle managers have many levers in their hands for inspiring the success of both organisation and their teammates.

Despite carrying the crucial responsibilities, the people above and below the middle managers carry negative perceptions about them and such perceptions might be because of narrow, local perspective and poor lateral, cross-functional cooperation and teamwork at the middle level. The middle managers have little power, spends a lot of time micro-managing people, and whose career is in a pothole. Further, they are often wretched, mocked by their subordinates, and bullied by their bosses. They are struggling when it comes to maintaining a sense of belonging, and they feel more stressed and less productive than their senior colleagues.

Does the Corp Inc. recognize the existence and value of middle managers? If yes, why it is not visible and appreciated enough? If not, what reasons you can count upon?

NN Organisations and social scientists have long seen middle managers as a target for assigning blame, invisible, most ignored, unrecognized and unattended assets in most organisations. They are undervalued and seen as "unwanted fat" in the belly of the organisation! They are seen as "speed breakers" and "bureaucrats" hampering the growth of the organisation. They are targeted first in downsizing, rightsizing, and re-engineering exercises under the plea of organisational flattening. They do not consider the pivotal contribution middle managers make to innovation and change in large organisations. Top leaders' general directives to open a new market, improve quality, or cut costs mean nothing without efficient middle managers just below officer level able to design the systems, carry out the plans, and redirect their staffs' activities accordingly. Furthermore, because middle managers have their fingers on the pulse of operations, they can also conceive, suggest, and set in motion new ideas that top managers may not have thought of. Perhaps, the top and senior managers have not understood the cost of not having middle managers! Some seniors have concluded that the loss of middle managers equates with the loss of valuable skills and the vital strategic capability necessary for organisational success. While the foregoing costs are real and substantial, they often go unnoticed because their direct monetary value is not easily calculated. Perhaps, they (seniors) have not understood today's simultaneous calls for unity and diversity!

Do you think that the middle managers are self-responsible for their misery or failure in the organisation? What can be the strategies to make them more competent?

NN The first aspect of the role for middle managers today is to act as an integrator. As an integrator, the middle manager complements the unifying role of the top manager and responds to the call for organisational unity. Unity is addressed by several activities of the middle manager. The second aspect of the role for today's middle managers is to be a facilitator of group processes. As a facilitator, the middle manager supplements the top manager's unlocking of leadership potential already resident in the organisation's members. Human diversity is fostered and served by this aspect of the middle management role. The third aspect of the role for middle managers is to act as an implementer of supporting systems at the workgroup level. As an implementer, the middle manager ensures that the diversity and unity desired by top management are nurtured by the organisation and rewarded within its workgroups. Unity and diversity are promoted as the middle manager serve as an implementer of supporting systems. As today's middle managers act as integrators, facilitators, and implementers, they will adequately complement the role of top management, respond to the simultaneous calls for unity and diversity, and ensure organisational success. Middle managers who neglect these duties will not succeed. Teams with managers who ignore these duties will struggle. Organisations that lack middle managers who pursue these tasks and activities will, in the long run, fail. The most profound strategy deployed by contemporary organisations is intensive coaching and mentoring of individuals and teams to build the capabilities of middle managers and thereby enhance their bandwidth. While success is initiated at the top of the organisation and fulfilled at the bottom, it is lead, developed, nurtured, and matured in the middle of the organisation. This developing, nurturing, and maturing require middle managers who fulfil their leadership roles as integrators, facilitators, and implementers. The top and senior managers shall have to play the role of "farmers" to cultivate the crops of middle managers.

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