The Fall and Rise of the Middle Manager
Organisational dynamics present a panorama of phenomena which baffle even the best of psychologists and workplace behavioural experts. Trends and headlines change every decade and in recent years, the pace of change has been astonishing. While technology and digital revolution have made exponential changes, the changes from the career perspective have mostly confined to the ‘middle manager’ level.
With several changes occuring in workplace dynamics, the spotlight is back on the middle manager, says Rajesh Nair
In the hierarchical, box-shaped organisational structures of the past, there had often been discussions about the ‘neglect’ of officers who were between the 10th and 20th years of their career journey. The logic proffered was that the young professional traverses a plateau after the initial vibrant years in the organisation and moves into a phase where she or he loses the zest to innovate and learn and moves into a role where they think that their primary responsibility is only to keep the ball rolling. This monotonous phase ends with some of them progressing into the senior management levels, running organisations and making critical business decisions, where they need to draw from their experience and shoulder immense responsibility and accountability.
As an organisational pundit averred, “middle management phase is a necessary evil!” It has also been identified as a phase of life where the professional is torn between choices pertaining to work and life and endlessly tries to strike a fine balance between professional and personal life. It is also a phase of life where he or she has to engage in many activities like setting up of families and fulfilling social commitments. Dilbert cartoons portray middle managers as bored executives indulging in multiple repetitive tasks. But this is changing and so is the dynamics of the workplace. There are several changes which brought the spotlight back on the middle manager.
Changing organisational structures
The hierarchical organisations have been broadly restructured into manageable chunks of business units with flatter structures. The need to be closer to the fickle customer and reduction of multiple touchpoints for decision making has necessitated the emergence of flat matrix structures. With this structure, decisions are cascaded down much faster and every employee plays a more responsible role.
Changing pace of transformation
Every industry is changing and the fine lines separating different industries are also fast vanishing with each of them evolving a digital core. In that sense, there is no IT company anywhere these days because diverse industries have also embraced the digital platform. This change has also put the middle manager back on the pedestal since they come with an interesting blend of business understanding and changed maturity.
Changing leader profile
The average age of the CEO is rapidly reducing. The emergence of ‘boss baby’ is also evident in the emerging technology companies. The quintessential middle manager is closer to the top management seat more than at any time in the past several decades. Organisations clearly understand that youth is no guarantee for innovation nor is age a clear marker of maturity. Placement specialists put a premium on the blend of both profiles.
Gone are the days when we considered middle managers as the ‘also ran’ in organisations. Today, a strong middle management pipeline is an indicator of the ability of the firm to embrace change, take the digital leap, expand and take the organisation to the next orbit of growth.
(The author is Partner, Emerge Ventures Pte, Singapore)