Summary: 'The Truth about Middle Managers'
Review: The Truth About Middle Managers
By Rolf Dobelli, Chairman, getAbstract
Forests of trees have been felled and oceans of money spent studying corporate CEOs and top executive management. In this much-needed book, Paul Osterman does something different: he takes a good look at the ranks of middle managers, how they have fared during the past decades of corporate upheavals and how their jobs have changed.
You may be surprised to learn that more middle managers are at work now than three decades ago, even though management has many fewer layers. Middle managers ensure the successful completion of the corporation's work. Top management may set the agenda, but the supervisors who run the teams execute it. Osterman explodes myths about middle managers and what has happened to their jobs. getAbstract recommends his fresh insights into these vital jobs and the people who fill them.
Middle Managers and the New Corporate Structure
Every business school student studies management and managers endlessly, but the bulk of the curriculum focuses on top executive managers, a powerful but relatively small group. Most management personnel are middle managers, but analysts are more likely to disparage and attack them than to study and research them. Investors like Carl Icahn and gurus like Tom Peters tend to discuss middle management as if it were a wasteful endeavor staffed by largely dysfunctional workers.
Unlike the caricatures of middle managers as organization drones or victims of corporate greed, most people in middle management see themselves as professionals who are dedicated to doing their jobs well and who feel loyal to their co-workers, if not to their companies. While top executives chart a company's direction and set agendas, middle managers implement those agendas and do the daily work required to realize the vision set by the CEO. To run a company, at whatever level, you need to be aware of what middle managers do and what middle-management jobs are becoming in modern corporations.
The general perception is that the flattening of corporate structures has resulted in fewer managers overall. As understandable as this assumption is, it is wrong. Downsizing, right-sizing, de-layering and other efficiency-minded programs may have changed corporate structures and left companies with fewer employees. Yet, they did not lead to fewer managers, since everyone still needs some supervision. Though jobs have changed and hierarchies have collapsed, companies still need managers to see that their goals are accomplished through their employees' daily work. According to the U.S. Census, about 8% of the U.S. workforce is in management. In fact, the percentage of private-sector employees from ages 20 to 64 who are salaried managers steadily increased from 6% in 1983 to more than 8.5% in 2002. If you include anyone who ever supervises other employees, the management ranks surge to nearly 19% in some studies.
Standing on Shifting Ground
The 20th century produced megacorporations built on the unprecedented, large-scale mass production of affordable, quality goods. Organizing ways to accomplish this work became a science of its own. Different companies took various approaches according to their needs. However, they all had one thing in common: layers of middle management, including numerous supervisors who oversaw workers to make sure they did their tasks properly and on time...
In the 1920s, General Electric set the pace with its vast army of managers. Sears, Roebuck and Co. gave aptitude tests to 10,000 young managers and put the top candidates on the fast track for advancement to higher management. AT&T and many other old-line companies ran assessment programs to identify managers who were suitable for higher-level jobs...
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