During the 1980s and 1990s, in our increasingly global marketplace, downsizing and re-engineering became a common practice in business, eliminating much of the need for middle managers, cutting costs, speeding up decisions, and flattening organizational hierarchies worldwide. Middle managers began to be seen as unnecessary costs, easily replaced by displacing responsibility downward to their subordinates, and uncooperative, even having a negative impact on change.
While middle managers still exist today, they must still deal with the general notion that their responsibilities could be displaced – even though they are often among the more experienced and knowledgeable employees in a department or company. This paper compares three articles on the topic of middle management, and applies these scenarios and opinions to real-life situations that I have experienced.
Creating Change Intermediaries
Recent studies have started to reveal the importance of the middle manager’s role when an organization is experiencing change. In Balogun’s article “From Blaming the Middle to Harnessing its Potential: Creating Change Intermediaries” the author states that middle managers make a strategic contribution as a “change intermediary,” referring to their role during implementing strategy, or change implementation.
Two opposing points of view observe the middle manager – one views the middle manager as adding little value and resisting change, and the other views the middle manager as a pivotal part of implementing change in an organization.
Balogun discusses a study that was done on middle managers during a transitional year in an organization, including structural, operational, and cultural changes. From this study, it was found that as “change intermediaries,” middle managers fulfill four roles: undertaking personal change, helping others through change, implementing necessary changes in their department, and keeping the business going.
A simple and perfect example of when I have experienced a co-worker performing as a change intermediary occurred last spring at a new restaurant where I had begun serving. The restaurant was only about 6 months old when the owners began to discuss the current lax dress code, and decided to implement a more strict and professional dress with more rules and more limitations as to what the servers could wear at work. Obviously, this was met with some resistance from servers who had been working at the restaurant since day one, and the change implementation was passed down from the owners through the general manager, to the assistant manager, who was most in charge of ensuring that the changes were adhered to. The assistant manager first undertook personal change by immediately adjusting to the new dress code, then helped other through change by gently reminding servers when their clothing was not in sync with the new dress code, and allowing a grace period for servers to buy new clothing and adjust to the new rules. Then, she implemented necessary changes in her department (the front end of the restaurant) by distributing a document outlining the specific changes to the dress code, and ending the grace period, so servers would have to adhere to the new rules. Finally, she kept the business going the whole time, as this took place over several weeks, and the front-of-house was still running smoothly and efficiently.
This assistant manager’s role was to transmit information down to us, the servers, from the owners and general manager. The owners lived in a different city and played a more omniscient role in day-to-day operations. While the general manager was usually present, he tended not to get involved in operational activities, such as micro-managing his servers. The assistant manager could easily have been eliminated, given the general manager’s constant presence, but her role was very important to take strategy from higher-level...