Middle Management cowering in the 21st Century

A FastCompany Article and Allen Murray’s book and WSJ article all address the growing fear in Middle Management – why do they exist? You don’t do “the thing” and you don’t ensure it’s useful to customers.  So, in the words of Office Space, “what would you say ya’ do here?”  A Techcrunch points out why middle management attitudes run off the best and brightests.    For algorithmic or knowledge-workers, what value does middle mgmt provide?  This is the hospital administrator, the IT-director, or sales manager.  It seems mostly that they create, defend, or complicate processes to impede knowledge worker progress.

Snorting lines of Process —   U.S. and European companies “over the past fifteen years, the amount of procedures, vertical layers, interface structures, coordination bodies, and decision approvals needed…has increased by anywhere from 50 percent to 350 percent.” What’s more, … “managers spend 40 percent of their time writing reports and 30 percent to 60 percent of it in coordination meetings.” No wonder people feel like they can never get any real work done.…Process is “not a good thing when there are so many processes in place that they restrain the people they’re supposed to help. If your team spends its days asking for permission before executing, taking an hour to complete expense reports or time sheets, attending redundant meetings, or answering irrelevant emails, you’ve got a problem.  

Here are five ways process can kill production: 

  1. Empowering with permission–but without action: It’s not empowering when people are given more responsibility, yet must still obtain an unreasonable number of approvals and sign-offs to get anything done. This signals a lack of trust.
  2. Leaders focused on process instead of people: In an effort to standardize and sanitize everything we do…Leaders look to processes, not people, to solve problems–and it doesn’t work. Where’s the inspiration, the vision? This signals a lack of humanity.
  3. Overdependence on meetings: “Collaborative” and “inclusive” buzzwords.. productive teamwork does not require meetings for every single decision. People are overwhelmed and ineffective when stuck in meetings. This signals that politics have taken precedence over productivity.
  4. Lack of (clear) vision: Great companies need a grand vision and important goals. Too often, companies have vision or mission statements laden with jargon but devoid of meaning. This signals a lack of purpose.
  5. Management acts as judge, not jury: If the purpose of a meeting is to think, create, or build, management has to stop tearing people down when they propose new ideas or question the status quo. This signals a lack of perspective and openness.

Why Process tastes good – It can be measured and scorecarded.  See Einstein “Not everything that counts can be measured. Not everything that can be measured counts.”  Measuring is easy and defensive in nature, creation is difficult and requires you to go on the offensive. 


And Six Sigma Process controls?  “Six Sigma: So Yesterday?,” the program ultimately did more harm than good when it was implemented at Home Depot: “Profitability soared, but worker morale dropped, and so did consumer sentiment. Home Depot fell from first to last among major retailers on the American Customer Satisfaction Index in 2005.”

Another oft-cited example of Six Sigma’s negative effects occurred at 3M. When former GE executive James McNerney took the helm in 2001, he instituted a rigorous Six Sigma program, which meant slashing costs, training thousands of employees to become program experts, and requiring extensive reporting on new products in the R&D pipeline. In the short term, especially in the eyes of investors, it seemed to work. Costs were brought under control, production speed increased, and operating margins rose from 17 percent to 23 percent by 2005. But researchers in the labs were stifled by the demands of the new metrics…. We were letting the process get in the way of doing the actual invention,” said Dr. Larry Wendling, staff vice president at 3M’s Corporate Research Laboratory.”  3M dropped Six Sigma for its creative areas of the company – “Researchers working in the labs, however, are no longer beholden to the metrics and rubrics of Six Sigma. “ 

Managers view Innovation as Bad!  “ A 2011 PricewaterhouseCoopers survey summarizes the quandary:  “Those in middle management… found innovation disruptive to their day-to-day activities and felt it got in the way of running an efficient operation–which is what they were paid to do.


About paulscho36

I like to simplify software. I love people who actually deliver software.
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