Redeeming middle management by Jonny McCormick

Innovative and, some would say, radical organisation design methods like Holacracy have sought to get rid of traditional management structures with the aim of introducing more agility, more creativity and more autonomy. Whilst I like the ideas there are clear challenges with implementing these types of designs and given their relative newness and unproven nature most organisations still opt for a more traditional structure. Therefore, it’s time to address a really important issue: middle management needs to be redeemed.

In many organisations, middle managers are now simply serving the function of being span breakers. They pass messages from the top of the organisation to the masses. They are, more often than not, seen as a layer of bureaucracy that people have to engage with to get things done. They oversee effort in and widgets out. This isn’t good enough and in many cases, it isn’t using the capabilities of middle managers.

Good middle management in organisations can unlock latent potential and help radically accelerate the company’s agenda and performance. Given their proximity to the vast amount of people in the organisation and their key role in managing outputs a serious investment in allowing middle managers to operate effectively and lead their people can harness energy, that in many cases is currently being lost.

As a middle manager in the age of information with an increasing focus on artificial intelligence coming into the workplace what are some things, you can do to make an impact?

Influence and inspire — working for an inspiring leader helps people engage with and enjoy their work. It helps them feel a sense of joint responsibility for delivering against the company’s mission. The ability to inspire the people you lead is crucial, especially in an environment that is automating many of the ‘old world’ functions of middle managers. Developing a strong EQ is one of the most valuable things that a middle manager can spend their time on

Coach and pass on knowledge — many middle managers are still promoted primarily because of their ‘technical ability’ and not necessarily their leadership ability. The function of coaching your people, helping them generate their own solutions and passing on knowledge in an appropriate and helpful way makes your team better. Don’t let your ego and need to ‘be the expert’ get in the way of your teams progress

Remove roadblocks — middle managers have an incredible opportunity to ensure that there are no roadblocks in the way of their team being as effective as they can be. Middle management has the seniority to influence the senior leaders and the proximity to understand the issues that most people face. Finding out what is stopping your team from being as effective as they can be and attacking these issues with ferocity has the potential to really move the needle towards high performance

Manage complexity and ambiguity — the hallmark of business in the 21st century will be dealing with rapid change and the ambiguity that it brings. It’s not always the job of middle managers to help people understand the complexity or bring clarity to the ambiguity but being able to manage it and lead through it separates the wheat from the chaff.

Ensure diversity — it’s easy to get caught up in an echo-chamber quite quickly. Groupthink is a powerful dynamic and when unchallenged can be toxic. Middle managers have the potential to help their people (and help senior leaders!) step outside of myopia when it sets in and ensure that a diversity of opinion and viewpoints are welcomed, encouraged and actively sought!

But, that’s enough from me. What do you think?


Jonny McCormick is the Director of Rosseau where he specialises in Organisation Development, Change Management, Leadership Development & Executive Coaching. Jonny has worked with organisations in the Retail, Financial Services, Defence and Higher Education industries as well as on some iconic Public Sector transformations to solve some of their most challenging "people" issues. Jonny is the host of Spoke podcast - a series that focusses on interviews with people you might not have heard of who are doing some really interesting things!