Middle Managers TodayOn March 9, Fortune published an online interview with Paul Osterman, a professor at MIT's Sloan School of Management, that outlines Osterman's views concerning the status and roles of middle managers in today's environment of frequent corporate restructuring.
The interview is a taste of what Osterman has to say at greater length in his recently published book, The Truth About Middle Managers: Who They Are, How They Work, Why They Matter. Osterman's thesis is that
... middle managers like their work. They're what I call craft workers: they're very loyal to the tasks they do, they get a lot of enjoyment out of it, and they're loyal to their work group, but what they have lost is loyalty to their larger employer, and there are a set of reasons for that. One reason is they perceive top management as having feathered their own nest, been greedy, and a lot of the management that I've talked to made comments to that effect, and it really does have an impact on their attitudes. Secondly, they perceive that the organization has reduced its commitment to them. That is to say, although most of them won't lose their jobs, some of them will, so the sense of reciprocity is diminished. And then thirdly, it's harder and harder for middle managers to climb the ladder because there are fewer rungs in the ladder and because companies are more willing to bring in outsiders if they want to.Osterman's recommendations for managing middle managers center on fairness in sharing gains and losses (e.g., those arising from the current difficult economic conditions), and providing middle managers with "a sense of achievement and accomplishment in other ways, moving people around horizontally or laterally, finding ways for people to augment their skills, broadening out jobs so that people have a sense of movement in their careers."