Opinion

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Why we should be grateful for middle managers

3 Mins

Middle managers have had a bad rap over the years. Often seen as most resistant to change, pen pushers and bureaucrats who revel in their own fiefdoms, they have been seen as the antithesis of what modern dynamic organisations are hoping to achieve. 

Today, though, I would like to put the case for the defence and indeed suggest that businesses – large and small – are starting to feel the pain of not investing enough in their future middle management layer.

Cutting investment

The problem began in 2008. As a side-effect of the recession most companies understandably decided to cut back on investment in training and reduce the intake of graduate and entry level employees. 

Seven years on, we are now in a position where many organisations are struggling to find staff with five to seven years experience, the ideal candidates for early stage management positions. Consequently, companies are on the wrong end of a supply and demand equation with experienced candidates enjoying a bidding war for their services.

There has always been a desire to keep organisations “streamlined” and “fit-for-purpose.” That is usually a signal for middle managers to dust off their CVs as they are first in line for such re-organisation. 

But it shows a lack of imagination that is having real consequences for the UK, particularly as we consider fundamental questions such as global competitiveness and productivity.

Efficiency and execution

Good middle managers perform a vital function at the heart of any company, ensuring operational efficiency and cohesion between management strategy and actual execution. Effective middle managers are key to organisational performance and productivity. 

Why? They are the most effective communications channel to the “bosses” on behalf of employees and able to relate management edicts to the realities of the “shop floor.”

Surveys regularly show junior staff are more likely to trust their immediate supervisors than their distant senior leadership teams. Consequently, middle managers can act as a vital champion for company strategy and culture. 

Organisations that work well have these advocates scattered around their team, but many companies are now facing the consequences of failing to invest in this vital spoke in their operational structures. 

Ultimately, the argument that it is safer to cut costs in a recession has backfired, because now it is more expensive for many businesses to find suitable middle management candidates.

Time to invest in staff

What’s the solution? Certainly it is not easy to take the brave decision to continue investing in staff, especially when every financial indicator is screaming cost reduction.

There is also the well-worn argument for smaller businesses that the return-on-investment is not high, because a business is simply training staff up to be poached by a competitor.

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