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Change agents: Empowering middle managers

Monday, October 20, 2014

A survey conducted by Australia’s peak management body has exposed the need for a market correction in the value of middle managers.

The Australian Institute of Management survey shows that middle managers vastly underestimate their value to an organisation which is in stark contrast to the high value that senior managers place on them.

Although 89 per cent of senior managers believe middle managers are the linchpin for effective communication within an organisation, 40 per cent of middle managers don’t believe they have effective lines of communication with senior managers.

This worrying trend was also prevalent in middle managers’ perceived ability to improvise and innovate.

While 93 per cent of senior managers value middle management’s ability to improvise, over 42 per cent of middle managers don’t believe senior managers value their abilities in this.

AIM Head of Research and Thought Leadership Dr Malcolm Johnson FAIM said that while the results were concerning, senior managers can counteract these perceptions by openly affirming the contribution of middle managers to organisational performance.

“In the past middle managers have routinely lost their jobs in corporate downsizing,” Dr Johnson said. “This research sees an acknowledgement by senior managers of middle managers’ deep technical knowledge and operational insights that can improve the success of organisational change initiatives.”

While it is commonly understood that middle managers are the conduit between senior management and staff, Dr Johnson said the role of middle manager in any organisation is often a lonely one.

“In times of organisational change they play a critical role in bridging senior management’s focus on macro issues and micro-level implementation through their teams.

“This places them in a no-man’s land where they are expected to explain difficult and disruptive changes to staff members and they end up receiving negative feedback from those above and those below them.

“Adding further pressure is the fact that many middle managers are often promoted purely for their technical knowledge and they are rarely trained in leadership and communication skills to bring out the best in their people.”

Including middle managers in change strategy discussions is very important Dr Johnson said, as they are uniquely placed to provide insights to senior managers on how changes will play out at an operational level.

“A strategy of inclusion is crucial, as is developing a process for esteeming middle managers and ensuring that they feel a sense of ownership over the change process.”

AIM’s Discussion Paper Engaging Middle Managers for Positive Organisational Change is due to be released in October 2014.

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