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How important are middle managers?

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For example, there can be a problem of excess layers of middle management in an organization, resulting in too many managers without a sense of what the people below them actually do, according to Dr. Bob Sutton, professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

“What you end up with is having more and more people who work together, who are distanced from the way the organization actually works,” Sutton told HRD.

“So they don’t understand how education works, they don’t understand what it’s like to work in a Walmart store, they don’t understand what it’s like for the average global user. In healthcare, there’s so many people doing financial stuff that people completely forget about health care. So that’s the criticism against them, is they add friction — but then, both in personality and in function, it’s just impossible to run an organization without them.”

The research agrees: middle managers are necessary

McKinsey & Company’s recent analysis of their 2022 survey of 706 middle managers found that “strong middle managers aren’t just nice to have… they are a business imperative. Organizations with top-performing managers yield multiple times the total shareholder returns (TSR) of those with average or below-average managers over a period of five years.”

The analysis goes on to point out that middle managers are likely the biggest influence on employees’ enjoyment of their work environments, leading to organizational health and productivity. The study isolated several qualities of middle managers beneficial to the bottom line, including consistency, challenge, personal ownership, and employee involvement.

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