Middle management doesn’t get its due. It’s often not thought about at all, and when it is it’s because businesses are looking to cut back. Many businesses incorrectly assume that they can become more nimble by eliminating links in the chain of command. But there’s a lot of value in maintaining a solid corps of middle managers. In fact, having go-betweens for staff and senior management can improve company communication and leadership development. Middle managers are a valuable asset; a better understanding of the traits of top middle managers can improve your business.
Senior management sets the agenda of the organization, the long-term strategy, implemented through techniques learned in business school or management training. The employees ultimately implement the strategies, but long-term plans are often just a gloss on most people’s day to day. Middle management helps communicate strategy and allocate resources to meet goals, working as the practical implementers of corporate strategy.
Just as middle managers can help convey the strategy of senior management to employees, they can also be a conduit for innovation from employees. In 1974, 3M company started its “15 percent” program where employees could do pretty much whatever they wanted. One employee, Art Fry, developed a sticky bookmark for his church choir hymnal. That bookmark was the original Post-It Note, a product that has since sold in the billions. Gmail came about through a very similar project at Google. Even with small improvements, employees often know best how to increase output. Without middle management, however, they are often cut off from those who can implement their ideas.
People leave jobs; they stick around for careers. If you remove a rung in the career ladder, you’ve made it much more difficult for talent to advance. This removal has two negative corollaries. First, if you lose a member of your senior management team, you have to either hire laterally and deal with the lag of onboarding new management. Or, you can hire vertically and take a gamble on an employee who hasn’t had the benefit of middle management training. Second, you’ve given employees a much narrower path to promotion, discouraging extra effort with the long odds. Keeping the career ladder in place, and making better use of every rung, is a better choice.
Scott Deming is an experienced businessman, motivational speaker, and management consultant. To improve the connectivity between your organizations, contact Scott Deming today.