As the manufacturing industry of the economy began to decline in the 1970s and
1980s, the service type companies springing up everywhere. The ranks of white-collar
middle managers made strides up the corporate ladders, and filled thousands of
The stock market crash of October 1987 brought industries to a spiraling halt.
Businesses, such as, airlines, financial services, and manufacturing were all
descending. Suddenly all those things that organizations had counted on in the past,
such as, stable market conditions, domestic competition, and the confidence to control
In the late 1980’s news of corporate axing in the middle management ranks
became all to familiar.
Companies began to delayer their hierarchies, downsize, and
‘rightsize’ their business. Organizations, once praised for ‘lifetime’ employment
found themselves defending their stature in the marketplace and hacking away at
thousands of jobs, particularly those in middle management.
Middle managers prior to these layoffs had been the ‘watch dogs’ of the
organization. Their focus was internal, they were concerned with making the operation
seamless. They monitored costs, identified variances, and solved operational
problems. They did not focusing on the external environment that affected the
organization. Those actions were left to senior management, who had the answers to
the many challenges and questions faced by the organization. They resolved most
issues and drew their own conclusion on what was plaguing the business.
For those middle managers who were lucky to keep their jobs, operating a lean
operation meant broader responsibilities, larger spans of control, slower career growth,
and few upward mobility opportunities. All of this for far less job security. Senior
managers expected more and different things from them which middle managers were
Today, most observers would agree that the old division of work no
longer applies. Indeed, the overly rational, control model has been abandoned in favor
of learning theory as a basis for describing how strategy is created. Operating
personnel were the first to recognize the need for change. It was a middle manager,
however, who was able to provide the knowledge and perspective to facilitate a
successful solution. Strategies don’t develop full-blown from the minds of top
managers or anyone else. Rather, strategies develop over time through different
decisions and actions made by middle managers.
Today’s middle managers are focusing on strategy, they have moved from
growth and control to innovation and customer responsiveness. The economy and
environment has become that of global competition, demanding customers, and ever
changing technology. Middle managers have to focus on strategic planning, new
organization structures, and technology changes. In order to achieve goals, managers
must possess the capabilities, characteristics, and ability to change in the new
Managers need to recognize that the old models of competing in markets has
changed, and it has put high demands on the way organizations compete. In order to
stay in business, managers have to create capabilities for their organizations.
Strategies have become focused on influencing industry standards and entering
nontraditional markets. Organizations have created relationships with suppliers,
customers, and competitors. It has made the middle managers job difficult because
he/she is dependent on others. While this has become a challenge, it has also helped
organizations to better influence resources.
Businesses today are based on ‘invisible assets’, such as, competencies, brands,
and reputation. These are an organizations intellectual property. It is difficult to
protect this type of property, and it has become an important roles for middle
Middle managers must be able to quickly help the organization if skills,
attitudes, behavior and business models change. Managers create motivation and
energy for employees, so they understand the importance of the changes. In addition,
organizations must have a shared agenda. The agenda should not just be shared with
employees, but also with customers, suppliers, and investors. The view of the future
must be impressive and motivational.
Middle managers must have certain characteristics in order to be an efficient
and effective managers. The issues of cultural acceptance, strong training beliefs, and
ethical behavior are key factors for the middle manager.
Managers need to recognize that other cultures may not share the same values
and beliefs as their own. Having the ability to understand these cultural differences
will give the middle manager an advantage in business. Organizations have become
global, and in order to remain competitive it’s important to understand the history,
religion, and language of other cultures.
In order to keep up with technology both managers and workers have to be
exposed to new ideas, technologies, and business practices. Managers must seek
opportunities for continuous education.
Managers need to create a system of standard values and behaviors for the
global organization. In addition, they must hold themselves accountable for higher
standards of excellence. Having the business knowledge, performance commitment,
concern and interpersonal skills are important in helping develop others.
There are many outdated business practices. Middle managers should recognize
these practices and strive to break through them in order to create the new
organization. The time of managing supply levels, prices, and profits are no longer the
focus for middle managers. The consumers and marketplace are now where managers
focus their attention. It’s not important to change business practices in an existing
market, but to create new practices. Businesses are being reinvented continuously.
Reinvention is defined by multiple changes in the organization performed
simultaneously. Reinventions are unlikely to be achieved if middle managers don’t
strive to meet the ever changing business conditions.
Logistics are taking the center stage in the overall competitive strategy of
organizations. There are no longer boundaries between manufactures and consumers.
Cost structures and business models have been altered in virtually every organizations.
The goal is to reshape existing industries, as well as to create new ones. In order to
accomplish this goal, the organization must focus on resources. Managers must stretch
beyond the resources that are available from suppliers, competitors, and customers.
It is now common to have multiple technologies operating an organization. The
need for integration and the development of multiple technologies has forced the
manager to rethink his/her reasoning processes in dealing with these challenges. The
ability to conserve and restructure resources rapidly is a critical capacity for the future.
This means learning fast, forgetting even faster, and focusing on winning in the
Even though all these factors are important in the development of the new
middle managers, many middle managers are still struggling in their positions. This is
because organizations, just like managers, have to be able and willing to change their
business when change is warranted. One of middle managers greatest challenges is
Most organizations seek employees that demonstrate problem-solving and
initiative-taking abilities. They want an employee that will go the extra mile for the
organization and more importantly the customers. Because of market uncertainties and
restructing that might take place within the organization, companies are not always
willing to go the extra mile for employees. Managers are not always able to guarantee
jobs to employees, regardless of their performance level. A reduction in the
hierarchical levels reduces a manager’s ability to promise promotion, and managers
therefore have less power to influence careers. In addition, it’s difficult for managers
to give employees clear job standards and procedures. Restructuring that might take
place in an organization reduces the number of employees, but won’t reduce the
number of tasks. These new organizational career structures create anxieties for
employees. Within many workplaces, tensions are rising, and morale is shaky. Greater
workplace diversity adds strain; men and women and members of different ethnic or
racial groups are still learning how to work together as peers.
For middle managers to do their job effectively, organizations need to adapt to a
new concept of their organization. Organizations are becoming boundaryless in
today’s market. The idea of the boundaryless organization has to start with the leaders
of the organization and be accepted by everyone in the organization.
The boundaries between levels and ranks of employees should be vertical.
Having the competencies to perform one’s job is more important than their position or
rank in the company. This will lead to better decisions made by the organization
because people are more accessible to different ideas from within the organization.
The boundaries between the company, suppliers and customers should be open.
Traditionally, organizations form ‘we-they’ relationships and conduct business through
negotiating, haggling, withholding information, and playing off customers. When this
food chain mentality is replaced by a focus on the ‘value chain’, innovations can be
When geographic boundaries are made more accessible, companies can rapidly
leverage global successes. Boundaries in geography may isolate innovative ideas and
lead to competition between field employees, headquarters, and markets.
In addition, organizations can achieve boundaryless organization by identifying
a significant ‘stretch’ goal or opportunity that will make a difference to the business.
The goals should have the ability to redefine and reinvent the business, as well as to
Organizations should encourage teams to engage in achieving stretch goals as
well. This will help in the geography boundary and make employees, customers, and
Organizations can no longer afford reactionary middle managers who occupy
space and want to take orders. They must join in and shared leadership responsibility
with senior management rather than waiting for direction. The opportunities are
available to play an influential role in shaping and implementing strategy. Middle
managers play a key role in abandoning the old processes and generating new ones.
They can work with top management’s vision and help bridge the gap between the
vision and the reality. They can examine and remove obstacles and help the
organization to develop their goals. In addition, middle managers should create vision
in their own departments. This vision will help employees understand the importance
The new breed of middle manager can take on a variety of roles from corporate
trouble shooter to team leader, project coordinator, and knowledge managers. The
truth is that the vast majority of managers in today’s large organizations are middle
managers. Their positions are located between the strategic summit and the operating
core of the organization. They have become the front line of the organization, which is
it’s lifeline. Managers on the front line are constantly facing the moments of truth and
have the knowledge to know what methods works and which ones do not.
Organizations have begun to look for innovative solutions from the middle managers
first, before making decisions that will affect the entire organization.
We’ve entered a decade of leaner and less structured organizations. The focus
on empowerment, service, and the customer are the focus for the future. The last
decade was one of turmoil in management thought, concepts, and tools. From the
models of total quality and cycle time to that of empowerment, transformational
leadership, boundaryless values and networks of alliances. The role of middle
management has become the new paradigm for organizations.
Floyd, Steven. The Strategic Middle Manager. 1996.
Emshoff, James. The New Rules of the Game. 1991.
Albrect. Karl. Service Within. 1990.
The Drucker Foundation. The Organization of the Future.1997.
Kinsley, Michael. Middle management 101; on becoming a manager in middle age. Time
Magazine. July 6, 1998 v151 n26 p102.
Sethi, Deepak. Leading from the Middle. Human Resource Planning. Sept 1999 v23 i3 pg 9.
Cite this Middle Managers in the Past and Now
Middle Managers in the Past and Now. (2018, Jun 19). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/middle-managers/