I read an article recently that rather unkindly referred to middle managers as the “muddle in the middle”. This got me thinking about how often middle managers get a bad press. I wonder if the “squeezed middle” might be a more appropriate description. So, I write in defence of the middle manager.
They are required to communicate the organisational vision, frequently when this vision is not being clearly communicated from the top leadership.
The have to motivate tired employees, threatened by job insecurity from yet another organisational change, and this is no easy matter.
Securing cross-functional collaboration when resources are more and more constrained is a challenge they face on a daily basis.
But that’s not all they face! At times middle managers are also in the firing line from their staff. They are a readily available target when someone from “management” is needed to take the blame. Yet many employees are unaware of how frequently their managers shield them from poor leadership.
Middle managers are bridging the gap between executive managers and front-line managers, and at a time when they need to be developing and up-skilling they are not getting enough organisational attention.
Behavioural capabilities such as fostering co-operation, securing employee engagement and ensuring best practice are core aspects of a middle management role. They are also key requirements for organisations facing volatility, trying to negotiate change and seeking to encourage innovation.
The link between organisational capability and business performance has been made many times, there is no need for me to repeat it here. Developing the behavioural capability and empowering middle managers, who are able to respond and adapt to changing environments, will increase such organisational capability.
Yet learning and development opportunities have been curtailed in many organisations as part of cost cutting measures. So, let’s support the middle managers, recognise their contribution to the bottom line, and invest in their development.