For nearly a decade, I was one of the beleaguered souls known as a middle manager.
Sandwiched between front-line supervision and senior leadership, each day was a struggle to balance the needs of the workforce with the aspirations of the top dogs.
I was the last of a dying breed.
Right before I left to start my own business (and the reason why I did so), I remember excitedly telling my boss that I was going to take over the creation of a new leadership development seminar.
It had been a few years since I had put my hand to the instructional design helm, and I was eager to begin this exciting challenge.
He said, “I don’t pay you to do the work yourself. You have staff to actually produce the work. I pay you to direct them.”
His comment typified the belief about the manager’s job in those days. Yes, managers actually used to manage staff as their sole job function. Not any more. Read on to learn what has become of the role of the middle manager, and how organizational leaders need to rethink the concept of the flat organization.
|TOTAL QUALITY MANAGEMENT:
20 Years LaterBy Alice WaagenThe 1990’s love affair with Total Quality Management (TQM) empowered work teams, process improvement, and other business buzzwords killed the professional manager.Organizations flattened themselves, removing layers of managers, while distributing their responsibilities to key individual contributors.
This new breed of manager retained its full individual contributor duties while picking up the job of overseeing the work of staff. This concept of “working managers” permeates organizations today and has resulted, in my humble opinion, in a poorly run, overly stressed mess.
Nearly two decades later, we are still reaping the fruits of this flawed logic.
In most organizations, managers have a full plate of their own work to produce, while overseeing the work and assignments of staff.
And how does this really work? It is quite simple: The performance plans which guide a manager’s personal allocation of time and attention are chock full of his or her individual goals with scant mention of the management responsibilities.
These responsibilities, such as coaching, motivating, and assessing staff, simply drop off the plate. The manager’s function has shrunken to little more than occasional ad hoc conversations supplemented with a myriad of poorly written emails and a very painful event called the year end appraisal. (More on performance appraisals in my August newsletter.)
But here is the irony of it all.
Organizations have achieved little true cost savings by killing the middle manager.
Why? The work being done by the professional manager has not gone away. People still need direction and correction to successfully complete work assignments. Without this guidance, work is completed with errors and needs rework.
In my scan of organizations, I see lots of people working hard and putting in long hours. But the efficiency of this work is abysmal. My colleagues in Human Resources mostly pick up the slack when managers fail to manage. HR folks spend endless hours mediating disputes, coaching performance short falls, and calming down irate employees who clearly don’t know what’s expected of them.
What’s the result?
Managers aren’t managing, HR serves as de facto managers, and what happens to the HR work?
It gets delayed, causing more employee problems. It is enough to give anyone a headache.
I strongly encourage organizational leaders to rethink the concept of the flat organization and reinstate the profession of management.
Here are some simple steps that can push organizations closer to a better balance of management and work:
I vote that we revive the long dead professional manager and use this valuable resource to create workplaces that are effective and efficient, as well as healthier and happier places to work.
June Book Review:
By Abraham Maslow
Review by Dr. Alice Waagen
On the anniversary of Abraham Maslow’s death (June 8, 1970), I revisited his classic book, Maslow on Management.
I return to it periodically because this transcription of the journals he kept while touring a factory in southern California in 1960, provides us with a unique view of management that applies today.
Best known for his theory of human motivation, centered on self-actualization and the phrase “hierarchy of needs,” Maslow maintained that the basic human drive is for self-actualization, and the need to fulfill one’s full potential. He was a master of the science of psychology, who broke from the early traditions of Freud and the behaviorists to devote his life to research into positive psychology.
Known as the father of humanistic psychology, Maslow saw value in advancing the understanding of what motivates and satisfies people, as opposed to the study of neuroses. He proposed an enlightened set of theories about man as a healthy being striving to achieve full potential. Drucker, McGregor, Argyris, Likert and other writers on business and management have openly attested to the powerful influence Maslow had on their thinking.
Maslow’s unique contribution, and the reason I return to this book over and over, is that he views the job of a manager much more broadly than simply assigning tasks and monitoring results. He believed that every worker needs to be committed to important and worthwhile work as the path to happiness and fulfillment or self actualization. He saw it as a manager’s critical responsibility to help individuals reach their full potential, which would then result in better, healthier workplaces and communities, and would benefit society, in general.
Reading Maslow in light of the horrendous errors in leadership shown by Enron, WorldCom, and now British Petroleum, we see that the workplace is not just an isolated environment, but one that affects the community it serves, both locally and globally. Maslow’s focus on humanistic management and the role, indeed the responsibility, of management to address an employee’s full potential and self worth through meaningful work has huge implications.
I only wish that Maslow, who died on June 8, 1970, could comment on the business world today and how management is fulfilling the assignment of guiding staff to meaningful and rewarding work. One can only imagine what he’d suggest.