Stuck In the Middle–Are Middle Managers No Longer Needed?
Middle management played a critical role beginning with the Industrial Revolution and on through the Continuous Quality Improvement era. Senior executives valued the management and communication buffer between them and front line workers.
In the 1990s, restructuring and downsizing led to the elimination of many middle manager positions and the road has been tough ever since. Now, the Technology Revolution has supposedly reduced the value of middle management even more.
Technology can monitor performance, create reports and generate instant feedback.
Communication up, down, around and outside the organization can be done quickly and easily.
Generations X and Y don’t want or need a boss that simply keeps track of what they are doing and when they are doing it. Heck, they can do that themselves through technology.
So are the days of middle management numbered? No. But the role, approach, and skills of middle managers will continue to change.
Middle managers can still be valuable mentors that provide insight based on experience and expertise. However, the mindset has to change from demanding to earning respect; from being above employees, to working side by side with team members; from delegating work because they have the authority to do so, to doing some of the work they can do themselves.
This requires staying abreast of new technologies and embracing, rather than fighting, change. It also means communicating often and openly with team members through the mediums they use. Quick conversations instead of long, formal meetings; texting when immediacy helps; brief emails instead of detailed “cover your back” messages.
And, the big one, social media. If middle managers subscribe to “Fear and Loathing of Social Media,” an opportunity to engage and build relationships will be lost. Yes, a common sense approach is necessary so time spent on social media sites doesn’t become a big waste. But a police state mentality will hurt productivity more in the long-term.
I believe Middle Managers can and should be a valuable part of organizations to lead, manage, challenge, and motivate individuals and teams. Technology has changed how they do so. It’s up to each middle manager to decide if that was for better or worse.