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ellen weber

What a great post Steve -- I'd love to see this as part of the line-up topics over at Wayne Turmel's ... Cranky Middle manager at http://cmm.thepodcastnetwork.com/

Wayne would love a go at this one and he's terrific at bringing out the gems in a good discussion.

Wayne's a good friend -- why not tell him I suggested it.

What do you think?

Steve Roesler

Sounds like it could be fun and extend the conversation.

Will let you know what transpires, Ellen.

Wally Bock

Great stuff, Steve. Let me add to your first point about ignoring training and development. That's true, but they've also paid precious little attention to selection and almost no attention at all to the crucial transition from individual contributor to group responsibility. In a survey last year DDI found 19 percent of respondents to their survey naming that transition as the single most stressful event in their lives.

As for Cranky Middle Manager, I'm with Ellen. I've been on Wayne's show and we discussed some of this, but I think you'd bring great perspective.

Wayne Turmel

Well heck, I haven't seen anything get as much feedback in a while as this study. I wrote an article for management issues on the topic, http://www.management-issues.com/2007/5/14/opinion/i-dont-want-to-be-a-manager.asp

but you can bet we'll be talking about it on the Cranky Middle Manager Show. Steve, invitations open.....

Steve Roesler


Just came out of a meeting where we discussed that point (hiring).

The upfront diligence in bringing in the right people to begin with is a wise investment of time, energy, and money that can pay off for a long time.

Isn't it fascinating how the human condition seems to spend more time trying to fix things after the fact than spending time getting it right the first go around?

The individual contributor/manager issue was actually part of the reason for the meeting today. Your comment is timely in a number of ways!

Steve Roesler

Hello, Wayne,

Yes, lots of buzz about the middle manager thing. And I had just read your I Don't Want To Be A Manager piece and alternated between laughter and some of the truths that the laughter was masking.

Thanks for the invite and for stopping by. Invitation graciously accepted.


My old manager just left to a new job where he moved from middle manager to individual contributor. He said no matter what there was too much pressure and blame. He said your reports blame you if they aren't happy, and then the upper management blames you if your team isn't performing. I agree that you need to help make middle managers "enabled". In some ways I think you can still concentrate on what is glamorous, because usually what is glamourous will be inspiring and usually what is inspiring will be motivating.

On a different point, I do think the middle manager position is facing a squeeze due to how Gen-Xrs and Gen-Yrs are open to switching jobs really easily, and in fact it's become a myth that job-hopping will hurt you:

Job hopping is one of the best ways to maintain passion and personal growth in your caeers. And here’s some good news for hoppers: Most people will have eight jobs between the time they are eighteen and thirty. This means most young workers are job hopping. So hiring managers have no choice but to hire job hoppers. Ride this wave and try a lot of jobs out yourself.


Wally Bock

The point about hiring is dead on, Steve, but I was trying to talk about promoting. If you promote the people who are likely to succeed as managers and then support them during the transition (which takes 12 - 18 months) AND you make sure that there's an individual contributor track for those who don't want to manage groups, why then things could come out OK.

It's worth remembering, that despite all the Leadership Pipeline and Talent Management discussion that most folks promoted to supervisor or middle manager from individual contributor are never going to see the upper reaches of the corporate atmosphere. All they're going to do is have the most profound impact on the productivity and morale of the workers in the company.


Middle managers are really caught in the middle.

There's a disconnect between senior managers and middle managers because when it's time to cut costs, it's middle management that has to go.

And a lot of senior managers don't give their team the support they need as far as leadership development or backing them up when they're having trouble leading. This is a huge mistake, because it's that team that can and will get things done with the right support and direction.

Steve Roesler

Good to see you again, Holly.

Being a middle manager isn't easy, for all of the reasons you mentioned and then some. And you're right about the job-hopping thing: it's become the norm.

But I wonder if it's actually a productive thing for everyone concerned. Just because something becomes acceptable doesn't mean it's necessarily effective over the longl run. I believe that many comanies have brought this on themselves by downsizing and upsizing and resizing quarter after quarter. Until companies refuse to be held hostage by financial analysts and investors who want to flip stocks for profit at the drop of a hat, this will continue. It's a vicious cycle and one that impacts the life of middle managers more than any other population.

Oh, about the glamour thing. I was trying to make the point that companies pay attention to developing "leadership" at high levels because it's more glamorous an undertaking than working to help new middle mangers get their feet on the ground.

Steve Roesler


No argument here. I guess my one-liner suggestion didn't convey the full thought that was in my head. (Not unusual!).

I think we're both pretty torqued up abou the same thing. Middle managers are charged with getting 'er done, but are now receiving little, if any, training and development when they're bumped up from super-worker to supervisor.

The literature and buzz have all focused on "leadership" over the past 10 years or so. Along with that has been the misperception that leadership is something that only takes place at the top of organizations. As a result, the training and development emphasis (and money) have flowed upward and away from those whose job it is to execute every day.

Add in Holly's comment about the OK-ness of job hopping and you've got middle managers who now have to get things done while standing in a revolving door.

Not easy.

Steve Roesler


This is clearly a hot topic. Let's face it, there are more "middle" managers trying to get things done than there are executives. I think you hit on one of the unfortunate reasons for middle manager frustration: a sense that there is a lack of support from their own boss.

Any idea why that happens too often?

Scott M

Let's face it: you get what you pay for. And middle management just doesn't pay well.

With the flattening of organizations, middle management is not what it used to be. Many of the perks and monetary rewards are gone.

They aren't paid much more than the people under you (and sometimes less). They have more responsibility, but less authority. Their job ill-defined and therefore expendable in times of corporate stress. They aren't offered any more assurances of future promotions than they were as a individual contributor.

Managers these days work more in a support role, rather than a command role, and therefore are closer to their employees. But that lack of separation means many of the perks are gone. You don't get a nice office. You don't get a company car or even a better parking space. You don't have an executive washroom. You don't get a membership to a country club, or a fitness club, or a big bonus at the end of the year.

So let’s recap:
- Not much money
- More responsibility
- Increased risk
- Fewer perks

Is there any suprise that there is a middle management shortage?

Let’s face it, the line-level employees do a lot of the basic work (I am one of them). But the managers have the responsibility and take the risk. And he who takes the risks deserves more of the rewards.

If companies really values managers, they will train them AND PAY them what they are worth.

Steve Roesler

Scott, that's such a complete description, I'd like to use it on a future post. I think you've captured the real issues in a no-nonsense way.

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