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6.1 The Evolving World of Middle Management

In the 1990s, many firms eliminated midmanagement positions and replaced them with computers.Stewart (1995). One of the most common terms for this was “delayeringThe process of reducing the number of personnel levels within a large organization, generally by eliminating the midmanagement tier.,” which is standard code for “eliminating all the nonproductive employees in the middle management ranks.” The result of all this turbulence is a very different role for middle managers in the 21st century as compared to the 20th century. Midmanagers now have more autonomy relative to the past, but experience much more monitoring. They have more job stress and are working longer hours. And there is less career progression within one firm, but more job hopping between firms.McCann, Morris, & Hassard (2008).

Meanwhile, there is a “war for talent” going on in the global economy. As such, there is intense and increasing competition for the top 10% of all MBAs and junior managers. As some have observed,

The unfortunate mathematical fact is that only 10 percent of the people are going to be in the top 10 percent. So, companies have a choice. They can all chase the same supposed talent. Or, they can do something even more useful and much more difficult to copy—build an organization that helps make it possible for regular folks to perform as if they were in the top 10 percent.O’Reilly and Pfeffer (2000).

While these trends and situations vary throughout the world, the overarching trend is for middle managers to be less secure in their jobs and less loyal to their employer.Hallier and Lyon (1996). While middle managers have always been torn and conflicted due to their key position in the organizational hierarchy, these feelings are particularly acute today.Hallier and James (1997). One of the ways of coping with this new reality is to avoid taking risks and making mistakes, or becoming more passive and less proactive. Perhaps this is why senior managers frequently perceive middle managers as one of the biggest obstacles to change in their organizations.Buchen (2005). As a result, middle managers are often not involved and engaged with the organization, or its substantive strategic reorientations. This clearly is problematic if the organization seeks to become change capable.