Middle managers fill a unique position in an organization; they communicate with the senior management as well as the operational level. In a world where organizations are lead more and more horizontally, you would think that middle managers lose their value, but nothing could be further from the truth.
The role of the middle manager
Synthesizing information: middle managers do not only receive information from the top, but also from employees, clients, suppliers, trade magazines, et cetera. It is now their job to bundle all that information. The middle manager needs to analyse the implemented strategy in the workplace, and when there is an elephant in the room, the middle manager needs to have the courage to name it.
Adaptability: the middle manager subsequently needs to tackle the issue of the elephant by designing experiments (or by letting others design those for him). By creating new ways of working that arrange for the organization to adapt itself to an ever-changing outside world. For this, the middle manager provides other people with an opportunity to develop leadership (granting). The only thing they need to do, is take up leadership (claiming).
Alternative strategy: if the middle manager’s experiments work out well and affect multiple divisions of the organization, he or she needs to present this alternative strategy to the top. This requires political skills, including: social intelligence, flexibility in influencing styles, the ability to network and appear authentic.
The road to innovation
By redefining middle management, the function of senior managers shifts as well. They are less responsible for daily strategic development, and now ensure the mission of the organization. They operate in a more abstract way and focus more on the ‘purpose’, the values of the organization and signification.
Furthermore, the middle manager will ask his subordinates to think along with him. Operational employees are more and more involved in decision-making and innovation. This way, everyone in the organization becomes more equal, and eventually, a flatter organization will arise.
Is an organization still efficient, if more and more employees are associated with strategy? No, but organizations do not necessarily have to want to be efficient. There are only few industries were people can afford themselves to only focus on efficiency. To be innovative, you have to learn and experiment. When you innovate, you are by definition not efficient in that field.
Thus, an organization that works from within a new paradigm, works in another way. Aspects as own initiative, approaching ambiguity and admitting that you do not know certain things, will become important. You have to trust that everyone is competent and is good at doing his or her own thing.
However, within this new paradigm, middle managers feel the pressure to create order and security for others. Since you often fulfil a leading position, people expect you to direct them and offer them protection. Nevertheless, this can no longer be a middle manager’s only focus.
At AMS, we consciously create programmes that carry bits and pieces of ambiguity. Students often say: “I want structure, and you need to be clearer in your assignments”. To which we answer: “The aim is for you to be confused, because that is how the outside world works. The question is, how do you manage it?”
The program ‘Leadership for Middle Management’ elaborates on the roles of the middle manager. More than ever, we will focus on three major steps: Who are you, what do you want? Wat does the outside world and the organization expect from you? And how are you going to unite those two?