Middle Managers


Middle Managers Essay, Research Paper

As the manufacturing industry of the economy began to decline in the 1970s and

1980s, the service type companies springing up everywhere. The ranks of white-collar

middle managers made strides up the corporate ladders, and filled thousands of


The stock market crash of October 1987 brought industries to a spiraling halt.

Businesses, such as, airlines, financial services, and manufacturing were all

descending. Suddenly all those things that organizations had counted on in the past,

such as, stable market conditions, domestic competition, and the confidence to control

business were no longer viable.

In the late 1980?s news of corporate axing in the middle management ranks

became all to familiar. Companies began to delayer their hierarchies, downsize, and

?rightsize? their business. Organizations, once praised for ?lifetime? employment

found themselves defending their stature in the marketplace and hacking away at

thousands of jobs, particularly those in middle management.

Middle managers prior to these layoffs had been the ?watch dogs? of the

organization. Their focus was internal, they were concerned with making the operation

seamless. They monitored costs, identified variances, and solved operational

problems. They did not focusing on the external environment that affected the

organization. Those actions were left to senior management, who had the answers to

the many challenges and questions faced by the organization. They resolved most

issues and drew their own conclusion on what was plaguing the business.

For those middle managers who were lucky to keep their jobs, operating a lean

operation meant broader responsibilities, larger spans of control, slower career growth,

and few upward mobility opportunities. All of this for far less job security. Senior

managers expected more and different things from them which middle managers were

not equipped to perform.

Today, most observers would agree that the old division of work no

longer applies. Indeed, the overly rational, control model has been abandoned in favor

of learning theory as a basis for describing how strategy is created. Operating

personnel were the first to recognize the need for change. It was a middle manager,

however, who was able to provide the knowledge and perspective to facilitate a

successful solution. Strategies don?t develop full-blown from the minds of top

managers or anyone else. Rather, strategies develop over time through different

decisions and actions made by middle managers.

Today?s middle managers are focusing on strategy, they have moved from

growth and control to innovation and customer responsiveness. The economy and

environment has become that of global competition, demanding customers, and ever

changing technology. Middle managers have to focus on strategic planning, new

organization structures, and technology changes. In order to achieve goals, managers

must possess the capabilities, characteristics, and ability to change in the new


Managers need to recognize that the old models of competing in markets has

changed, and it has put high demands on the way organizations compete. In order to

stay in business, managers have to create capabilities for their organizations.

Strategies have become focused on influencing industry standards and entering

nontraditional markets. Organizations have created relationships with suppliers,

customers, and competitors. It has made the middle managers job difficult because

he/she is dependent on others. While this has become a challenge, it has also helped

organizations to better influence resources.

Businesses today are based on ?invisible assets?, such as, competencies, brands,

and reputation. These are an organizations intellectual property. It is difficult to

protect this type of property, and it has become an important roles for middle


Middle managers must be able to quickly help the organization if skills,

attitudes, behavior and business models change. Managers create motivation and

energy for employees, so they understand the importance of the changes. In addition,

organizations must have a shared agenda. The agenda should not just be shared with

employees, but also with customers, suppliers, and investors. The view of the future

must be impressive and motivational.

Middle managers must have certain characteristics in order to be an efficient

and effective managers. The issues of cultural acceptance, strong training beliefs, and

ethical behavior are key factors for the middle manager.

Managers need to recognize that other cultures may not share the same values

and beliefs as their own. Having the ability to understand these cultural differences

will give the middle manager an advantage in business. Organizations have become

global, and in order to remain competitive it?s important to understand the history,

religion, and language of other cultures.

In order to keep up with technology both managers and workers have to be

exposed to new ideas, technologies, and business practices. Managers must seek

opportunities for continuous education.

Managers need to create a system of standard values and behaviors for the

global organization. In addition, they must hold themselves accountable for higher

standards of excellence. Having the business knowledge, performance commitment,

concern and interpersonal skills are important in helping develop others.

There are many outdated business practices. Middle managers should recognize

these practices and strive to break through them in order to create the new

organization. The time of managing supply levels, prices, and profits are no longer the

focus for middle managers. The consumers and marketplace are now where managers

focus their attention. It?s not important to change business practices in an existing

market, but to create new practices. Businesses are being reinvented continuously.

Reinvention is defined by multiple changes in the organization performed

simultaneously. Reinventions are unlikely to be achieved if middle managers don?t

strive to meet the ever changing business conditions.

Logistics are taking the center stage in the overall competitive strategy of

organizations. There are no longer boundaries between manufactures and consumers.

Cost structures and business models have been altered in virtually every organizations.

The goal is to reshape existing industries, as well as to create new ones. In order to

accomplish this goal, the organization must focus on resources. Managers must stretch

beyond the resources that are available from suppliers, competitors, and customers.

It is now common to have multiple technologies operating an organization. The

need for integration and the development of multiple technologies has forced the

manager to rethink his/her reasoning processes in dealing with these challenges. The

ability to conserve and restructure resources rapidly is a critical capacity for the future.

This means learning fast, forgetting even faster, and focusing on winning in the


Even though all these factors are important in the development of the new

middle managers, many middle managers are still struggling in their positions. This is

because organizations, just like managers, have to be able and willing to change their

business when change is warranted. One of middle managers greatest challenges is

dealing with human resources.

Most organizations seek employees that demonstrate problem-solving and

initiative-taking abilities. They want an employee that will go the extra mile for the

organization and more importantly the customers. Because of market uncertainties and

restructing that might take place within the organization, companies are not always

willing to go the extra mile for employees. Managers are not always able to guarantee

jobs to employees, regardless of their performance level. A reduction in the

hierarchical levels reduces a manager?s ability to promise promotion, and managers

therefore have less power to influence careers. In addition, it?s difficult for managers

to give employees clear job standards and procedures. Restructuring that might take

place in an organization reduces the number of employees, but won?t reduce the

number of tasks. These new organizational career structures create anxieties for

employees. Within many workplaces, tensions are rising, and morale is shaky. Greater

workplace diversity adds strain; men and women and members of different ethnic or

racial groups are still learning how to work together as peers.

For middle managers to do their job effectively, organizations need to adapt to a

new concept of their organization. Organizations are becoming boundaryless in

today?s market. The idea of the boundaryless organization has to start with the leaders

of the organization and be accepted by everyone in the organization.

The boundaries between levels and ranks of employees should be vertical.

Having the competencies to perform one?s job is more important than their position or

rank in the company. This will lead to better decisions made by the organization

because people are more accessible to different ideas from within the organization.

The boundaries between the company, suppliers and customers should be open.

Traditionally, organizations form ?we-they? relationships and conduct business through

negotiating, haggling, withholding information, and playing off customers. When this

food chain mentality is replaced by a focus on the ?value chain?, innovations can be

introduced into the entire system.

When geographic boundaries are made more accessible, companies can rapidly

leverage global successes. Boundaries in geography may isolate innovative ideas and

lead to competition between field employees, headquarters, and markets.

In addition, organizations can achieve boundaryless organization by identifying

a significant ?stretch? goal or opportunity that will make a difference to the business.

The goals should have the ability to redefine and reinvent the business, as well as to

just do the same business better.

Organizations should encourage teams to engage in achieving stretch goals as

well. This will help in the geography boundary and make employees, customers, and

suppliers become more competent.

Organizations can no longer afford reactionary middle managers who occupy

space and want to take orders. They must join in and shared leadership responsibility

with senior management rather than waiting for direction. The opportunities are

available to play an influential role in shaping and implementing strategy. Middle

managers play a key role in abandoning the old processes and generating new ones.

They can work with top management?s vision and help bridge the gap between the

vision and the reality. They can examine and remove obstacles and help the

organization to develop their goals. In addition, middle managers should create vision

in their own departments. This vision will help employees understand the importance

of the work that they do.

The new breed of middle manager can take on a variety of roles from corporate

trouble shooter to team leader, project coordinator, and knowledge managers. The

truth is that the vast majority of managers in today?s large organizations are middle

managers. Their positions are located between the strategic summit and the operating

core of the organization. They have become the front line of the organization, which is

it?s lifeline. Managers on the front line are constantly facing the moments of truth and

have the knowledge to know what methods works and which ones do not.

Organizations have begun to look for innovative solutions from the middle managers

first, before making decisions that will affect the entire organization.

We?ve entered a decade of leaner and less structured organizations. The focus

on empowerment, service, and the customer are the focus for the future. The last

decade was one of turmoil in management thought, concepts, and tools. From the

models of total quality and cycle time to that of empowerment, transformational

leadership, boundaryless values and networks of alliances. The role of middle

management has become the new paradigm for organizations.

Floyd, Steven. The Strategic Middle Manager. 1996.

Emshoff, James. The New Rules of the Game. 1991.

Albrect. Karl. Service Within. 1990.

The Drucker Foundation. The Organization of the Future.1997.

Kinsley, Michael. Middle management 101; on becoming a manager in middle age. Time

Magazine. July 6, 1998 v151 n26 p102.

Sethi, Deepak. Leading from the Middle. Human Resource Planning. Sept 1999 v23 i3 pg 9.

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