In Praise of Middle Managers

TitleIn Praise of Middle Managers
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2001
AuthorsHuy, Q. N.
JournalHarvard Business Review
Pagination9 - 18
Date Published09/2001
Keywordsmiddle managers, workers, workplace, workplace sociology

[Excerpt] The very phrase “middle managers” evokes mediocrity: a person who stubbornly defends the status quo because he’s too unimaginative to dream up anything better—or, worse, someone who sabotages others’ attempts to change the organization for the better.

The popular press and a couple generations’ worth of change-management consultants have reinforced this stereotype. Introducing a major change initiative? Watch out for the middle managers—that’s where you’ll find the most resistance. Reengineering your business processes? Start by sweeping out the middle managers—they’re just intermediaries; they don’t add value. Until very recently, anyone who spent time reading about management practices, as opposed to watching real managers at work, might have concluded that middle managers are doomed to extinction or should be.

But don’t pull out the pink slips just yet. I recently completed a six-year study of middle managers—in particular, their role during periods of radical organizational change. For the purposes of the study, I defined middle managers as any managers two levels below the CEO and one level above line workers and professionals. The research involved extensive on-site observations, in-depth interviews with more than 200 middle and senior managers, and a review of case research. My findings may surprise you.