The late Rodney Dangerfield was a great comedian who talked about how he never got no respect. We are fortunate that modern technology preserves his comedic genius and allows us to still enjoy his no respect routine. Middle managers can relate to Rodney Dangerfield–only they are not always laughing.
Though middle managers are managers of managers, they often get little respect. Though middle managers are critical to an organization’s success, they often get little respect. Though middle managers’ jobs are difficult, they often get little respect.
Middle managers are the Rodney Dangerfields in organizations!
Understanding the evolving middle management role and leveraging it effectively, however, is critical to an organization’s success. Given the volatile and complex nature of business, it is time to take another look at middle managers.
Why is Middle Management so Difficult?
Being in the middle is tough wherever it occurs!
In a family, the oldest child often has more responsibility and power and the baby has everyone’s attention. The middle child is left with this undefined role lacking the power of his or her older sibling and lacking the attention that his or her younger sibling gets from everyone.
In organizations it is no different.
The senior executives to whom the middle managers report have the power. Senior executives set the organizational policy and strategic direction.
First-level managers who report to the middle managers work directly with the customers. As a result, first-level managers get the critical attention of the organization.
The middle manager is left with bridging the gap between the senior executives and the first-level managers. These realities often make middle management a thankless job.
The job can become unbearable, particularly when there are problems with the organization’s policies strategic direction. In these situations, the middle manager often becomes the target of frustration from first level managers and the target of blame from senior level managers when things do not go as planned.
Yes, being in the middle is tough!
Middle managers have to make the executive agenda happen but their input is often missing or neglected in policy meetings and resource allocations. Further, where organizational development and training initiative decisions are made, organizations frequently give more attention to the senior and first-level management levels.
There is further proof of the lack of respect for middle managers: middle managers are often hit the hardest in times of organizational layoffs. The lucky (or unlucky) middle managers who do happen to keep their jobs are left with more responsibilities, less resources, and a role that is more stressful and complex.
Research supports this view.
In the Development Dimensions International report on middle managers, Put Your Money in the Middle, DDI found that an earlier recession significantly impacted middle management.
Here’s what they found out about middle managers during that recession:
- Their ranks had shrunk.
- Their loyalty to organizations had declined.
- They were stressed.
- Their responsibilities had grown.
Yes, being in the middle is tough but the middle level of management is critical to an organization’s success. Middle managers are the natural pipeline to vacant C-Level positions. Also, middle managers are the primary implementers of the senior executive agenda.
Middle management is necessary!Middle managers are a critical element of an organization's success. They are the natural pipeline to vacant C-Level positions and they are the primary implementers of the organization's agenda. Click To Tweet
In fact, as Paul Osterman notes in his book, The Truth About Middle Managers, many middle managers today function more like general managers or senior leaders of old.
With the flattening of organizational responsibilities, technological advances and the changing nature of work, the scope of middle management is not declining — it’s growing.
It’s time for senior leadership, HR departments, and first-level managers to give middle managers some respect.Middle managers are critical to an organization's success. It's time to give them some respect. Click To Tweet