As the manufacturing industry of the economy began to decline in the 1970 s and 1980 s, the service type companies springing up everywhere. The ranks of white-collar middle managers made strides up the corporate ladders, and filled thousands of positions. 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 business were no longer viable. 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 manager expected more and different things from them which middle managers were not equipped to perform. 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 dont 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. Todays 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 workplace. 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 managers.
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 its 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. Its 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 dont 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 marketplace.
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 dealing with human resources. 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 restricting 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 managers ability to promise promotion, and managers therefore have less power to influence careers. In addition, its 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 wont 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 todays 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 ones 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 introduced into the entire system. 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 just do the same business better. Organizations should encourage teams to engage in achieving stretch goals as well.
This will help in the geography boundary and make employees, customers, and suppliers become more competent. 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 managements 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 of the work that they do. 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 todays 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 its 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. Weve 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.
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