In a recent issue of the Harvard Business Review Lynda Gratton wrote a column entitled ‘The end of the middle Manager’.
Lynda, who is Professor of management practice at London Business School, writes that the technology revolution has changed the very nature of how people work and as a consequence the classic job of the middle manager will disappear. Emphasising that new technology can monitor performance, provide instant feedback and create reports and presentations, leaving people with general management skills in a very vulnerable position.
If the middle manager is to be replaced by technology, are these not just the managers in over bureaucratic environments where their main function is box ticking and form filling; in which case the decline of such managers can not be a bad thing.
However, not all middle managers are alike, just like not all organisations are alike. Great middle managers can really benefit the company by leading and developing the staff to facilitate the company in achieving their goals and aims.
All too often the gap between the leadership and the frontline leaves the corporate strategies sitting on a shelf collecting dust. A good middle manager will enable his staff to turn those corporate strategies and goals into reality. He does this by being flexible, adapting his communication styles and approaches depending upon the situation.
Lynda goes onto say that there is no place for a jack of all trades, and I agree, but describing the middle manager as this is negating the value and experience they bring. No longer does the middle manager need to know exactly how to do the job of the people he is managing, he needs to know how to get the best out of them. After all, how many tennis coaches can play tennis better than the pros they are coaching, if they could wouldn’t they be up there playing the game professionally? It is about developing and encouraging the player to get the most out of them, giving them constructive feedback, just like in management.
That isn’t to say there isn’t a role for the technology and sure technology can measure certain KPIs, but the technology only produces the raw data, the role of the manager is to turn that data into useful knowledge and to use that knowledge wisely and collaboratively with his staff to achieve the best results.
So I am sure I am not alone in believing that the end is not nigh for the middle manager, it is just evolution in practice.