Make the middle manager cool again

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Who wants to be a middle manager? Not many people. It’s nice to be the trainee – young and cool; it’s nice to be the CEO – with all the power. But the rest? Stuck in the sandwich’s middle. No longer cool. Not really powerful. If middle managers were brands, they’d be Macy’s, Gap or Acer. Brands that get the job done without the glamour. In most firms, middle managers are the least-loved people.

But middle managers’ power is hugely underestimated. Who has the strongest internal networks? Middle managers. Who can best sense people’s mood? Middle managers. Who knows how to get stuff done inside the firm? Middle managers.

Here’s a striking example. One firm funded over 100 new projects. Of all projects proposed by senior executives, 80% fell short or failed. Of all projects proposed by middle managers, 80% succeeded, INSEAD professor Quy Nguyen Huy found. Why? Because the middle managers understood what would work – and how to get things done.

Middle managers are also in it for the long run. A mortgage, two kids and a dog are strong reasons to try and make things work. But there’s more. Middle managers often care deeply about their firm. Some call this loyalty. I call it grit.

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For change projects, work closely with the influential middle managers. Huy found three types. The ‘entrepreneurs’ who bring ideas that actually work; the ‘communicators’ who know how to get messages across; and the ‘therapists’ who know how to build up morale.

Many people talk about change. Middle managers actually make change happen. Don’t just work with them. Make the middle manager cool again.

(From my Marketing Week column)

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