Middle Management

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Middle management is the logical effect of a large management structure that needs more people to oversee workers.

Most middle managers “manage managers”, and are often promoted into the role.

  • Typically, they started as an entry-level worker, then gained a reputation in the company as a great worker and were promoted to oversee other workers, then eventually to oversee other managers.
  • In larger organizations, this promotion ladder can move upward a few times (e.g., shift supervisor, general supervisor, district manager, regional manager, etc.).
  • In particularly large organizations, most VP roles are glorified middle management roles.

The requirements to get into middle management are typically much harder than the requirements to actually do the job.

  • The work itself typically involves getting status updates from subordinates, then condensing and sending those status updates to a higher manager.
  • Most of your decision-making ability comes through permission you’ve been granted by your manager.
  • To that end, most middle managers don’t have much responsibility over what they do all day.

It’s vastly difficult to define a high-quality middle manager for several reasons:

  • Like any other manager, their performance is based on their workers’ performance, which is already often difficult to measure in many job capacities itself.
  • Their capacity to make decisions is hampered by what the company policy indicates, which they typically have zero control over.
  • Performance metrics are very reliable to determine how someone does across time, but most executives track performance metrics against different managers on the same level, which disregards every variable which could be different.

Unfortunately, middle managers only exist in large groups, so middle managers can only exist within the natural inefficiencies that come from large systems.

  • As the management ladder gets taller, managers show progressively less evidence of any individual contribution.
  • Further, most people who are dramatically successful will slowly leave their middle management role to find more meaning in a different role elsewhere.

Multiple tiers of middle managers can add value to a large organization, but only if a few criteria are not met:

  • When middle managers are technical idiots, they’ll magnify the efforts of whoever leads them, since they don’t know any better.
  • If the power structure is highly formalized, with no room for discussion (e.g., a military), the middle manager is a redundant role as soon as higher management adopts better communication technology.

When individual contributions are easy to determine or completely irrelevant, a simple alternative to middle managers is a head communicator (e.g., “account manager”, “project lead”).

  • By having someone relay information, there’s no need for a middle manager, since the person themselves is held to that task.
  • This can create more chaos, especially when there are any conflicts, but also gives people more responsibility (and therefore they’ll find more meaning and be more productive).

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