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Middle management is not for sissies.

Middle management as we know it today is obsolete.

That eerie statement appears to be the observation of many of today's management writers and the cause of duodenal ulcers in many of today's middle management.

When considering the truth concerning the obsolescence of middle management, observe what is going on in the core of North American corporations:

* Despite the elimination of millions of jobs, many experts feel our organizations are still 25% overstaffed. Who do you think is considered by top management (the ones who are eliminating the jobs) to be most expendable?

* Peter Drucker has stated by the year 2000 US firms will have eliminated 40% of the 1990 level management layers. Do you think he means the top thinkers and the bottom doers?

* By the year 1995 it is expected we will have 30 people looking for every one management job. Does that mean we are in for a major unforeseen and spontaneous population explosion?

How did this sorry state of affairs happen? We don't have to look to the Land of the Rising Sun for the answers.

North American organizations painted themselves in the corner by designing and relying on an economically based reward structure. When the major reward for a job well done is money and each organizational level has a salary cap, the only way to reward and keep good performers is to promote them to the next level. Since most organizations have more good people than management levels, more levels are created. We wound up with levels within levels, managers that manage no one and, in total, produced more managers than there are emerging Baltic republics.

The time of reckoning has come. The corporation of the future has little need for job functions that add no specific value to the product or service. Employees will be either on the planning level or the doing level. Why should an organization incur expenses for anything else? It shouldn't, but if middle managers play their cards right they will still be around when the dust settles because the functions management of old provided are still essential in tomorrow's organizations.

Projects will still need to be visualized, communicated, planned, controlled and organized. People will still need to be inspired, directed, rewarded and supported. But will those functions all be performed by the CEO? Not likely.

And since the level that previously performed those functions is quickly becoming an endangered species, the workers will have to perform those functions themselves. Since necessity breeds invention, we are witnessing the creation of innovative structures such as the Self-Managed work team. Teams are "in", and will most likely remain "in" during the remainder of our time, as a part of the wonderful world of work.

Team members in the future will share the performance of the management functions. Those employees that in the past possessed the abilities needed for effective management will now have the responsibility to stop providing the fish and will have the responsibility to teach others to fish The manager title is going the way of the telephone with a cord and rightly so since manager activities have changed. Job titles most consistent with the new work functions are now; coach, facilitator, leader, etc.

The reality of today's middle level management is:

* Due to a variety of good business reasons (increased emphasis on quality and its team approach, need to get closer to the customer, advanced technology, uncertain economy, etc) downsizing is both appropriate and possible, therefore various middle management positions may no longer exist in the organization.

* If the management position does exist, its job description may be vastly altered and the skills which brought the manager his or her promotion may not be as valued by the organization.

* The manager may have to swallow an industrial dose of ego when his or her title and job responsibilities go from Staff Manager -- Product Management with ten direct reports, to Coach -- Product Management Team with ten teammates.

While all that has been discussed so far may be viewed as a gloomy prognosis of middle management, it's not meant to be. Applying the right combination of the "internal and external game" of management, the next few years can be filled with personal learning, challenge, fulfillment and fun.

Parents, the healthy ones, do not raise their children so that the children would remain children forever and neither do healthy managers work with their subordinates so that they would remain SUBordinate forever. Coaching, facilitating and training are what the good managers have been doing all along, titles and job descriptions are just now catching up.

What can an organization do to ease the transition from the traditional to the new management roles:

* Top management must not only be 100 percent behind the new process but must be honest about why the restructuring is occurring and its impact on the worker. If the truth is that top management will still be employed, get paid as much if not more than before while their jobs will change very little, if any, and the changes in middle management are being implemented primarily to make money or cut losses, the worker deserves to be told. After all vital information is not kept from fellow team members, is it?

* Revamp the antiquated reward structure. Eliminate any reward that does not foster the results desired. As basic as that sounds we still have organizations that are rating their individual employees against each other for salary treatment or bonus consideration and claim they want everyone to work as a team. Talking team effort and rewarding individual effort is confusing at best and at worst, highly unproductive.

* Sell and train the employee. If managers are asked to "do more with less," it only seems right that each ex-manager title understand the payoff to being a coach and be provided the tools to succeed at the new tasks.

What can each individual do to ease his or her personal transition from the traditional to the new manager role?

* Commit to doing your best in the new environment. No matter what training is being provided, and there should be plenty, training will be less effective if the manager is not committed to making it work. Since everybody has to be somewhere and you have chosen to remain with your organization, you might as well be committed to doing your best.

* Take charge of your effectiveness. If after some self-analysis you find there are skills required of your new position that you may feel are lacking in your personal skills inventory, go get them. Don't wait for the organization to provide the training for your personal needs. Consider it a benefit if generic training is being offered by your company training personnel. Get your own books, audio and/or video tapes, attend seminars, sign up for formal classes at local universities or adult education programs, etc. There is little during this time of transition that you can strongly influence but your own training is one of those areas under your influence.

* Stop being concerned with what other people think. People inside the organizations know your true job responsibilities and are too busy being glad they still have a job to be concerned over your title. For those people outside the organization, call yourself anything you want; they won't know the difference anyway.

These times are said to be tough, but are they tough or are they just different? Different jobs require a different external skill set and a different internal view of the activities of a manager. If after the great corporate shake-out of the '80's and '90's you are still employed by someone, the last thing you should consider doing is wimping out by hiding behind antiquated skills until this all blows over. Organizations need every ounce of time, energy, passion and focus from all of their workers and since middle management, more than any other level, is fighting for its life, it's time to suck it up and do what needs to be done.

Tom Payne is an Albuquerque, NM-based speaker, trainer, author and founder of LODESTAR, a performance enhancement company. For more information on programs or his current book, From the Inside Out: How to Create and Survive a Culture of Change, call 505-296-2940.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Canadian Institute of Management
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Payne, Tom
Publication:Canadian Manager
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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