A Survival Kit
Indian Management|November 2018
A Survival Kit

Failing to develop the ability to purge work and delegate can limit a middle manager's career progress.

Professor John Colley

In an increasingly complex world, the middle manager has to bear the main burden of change as technology development accelerates, and organisations introduce more complex structures. They are sandwiched between senior management perceiving their role as instigating new initiatives and driving strategic change, and the workforce who not always willingly have to bear the consequences of these initiatives. Middle managers have the job of making change happen whilst ensuring that the organisation continues to function effectively. How can middle managers survive and progress their careers whilst faced with such daunting pressures often with little help from their senior managers?

As business complexity increases with diversification and internationalisation, complex organisational structures typically of matrix design are frequently introduced. The objective is to ensure that horizontal communication occurs across the business together with the dissemination of best practice. Traditional structures normally involve strong vertical lines of authority whereby people respond to only one manager. Whilst creating clarity, accountability, and responsibility this does allow for the development of silos and ‘little kingdoms’ with their own objectives, culture, and degrees of insularity. ‘Matrix’ type organisational structures are introduced to allow much greater communication, cooperation, integration, and standardisation across the business. This provides a framework for innovation and lower costs. New product rollouts can be accelerated and learning disseminated across the organisation.

Matrix structures change the game for middle managers

However, these matrix structures come at a cost. They result in less clear organisational lines, which dilute the influence of line managers and limit their authority. It introduces functional management lines of authority increasing the number of senior people that middle managers have to respond to. In turn, this can lead to conflicting commands and a major overload in terms of change initiatives descending from above. Functional directors may not be well coordinated with each other and an element of their assessment is usually related to change initiatives they can implement across the business. All of which is not good news for the already overworked middle manager.

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November 2018