Middle Management and the Digital Transformation

Originally published on rogiernoort.com

When it comes to Middle Management everybody has an opinion. Almost everybody has some questionable experience with managers, I know I do.

Middle managers tend to get a bad rap, and I believe this should change. Like it or not, they are the keystone in the new world of Digital Transformation.


Fight or Flight

Being in the middle is only a good thing when the herd, or flock, or school is in danger. In most ‘human’ situations it always seems a bit uncomfortable.

You’d rather have a house on the corner than in the middle. The middle child is always gets the short end of the stick. Standing in the middle of the room at a party can be mightily uncomfortable. And middle management “gets it” from both ends, from above and below.

It’s my believe this puts more pressure on a person than they really need, or more often than not, can handle.


Here’s the tricky bit, and the bit that drives so much of the behaviour we really don’t want;

In order to feel any control at all they have to exert their “power” over their employees. Despite the fact they have no real power.

They usually just head up a team, or maybe a department, and their main task is keeping one-level-up-management happy with the right numbers.

Nothing else matters.

And when you focus solely on the numbers, you lose.

Middle Management

Sometimes “they” are promoted simply because the vacancy needs to be filled and s/he is the next batter up. And once a decision is made, it is rarely revisited.

Meaning, if someone performers below par after promotion, s/he won’t move further up the line (probably). But, s/he won’t be demoted either. Leaving an incompetent person on a position where s/he is uncomfortable. And then bad stuff might happen.

As a leader you want the right people in the right place at the right time doing the right thing, that’s how you get the maximum out of people (this is not breaking news).

This goes for every level, and every position within a company, the more you can optimise this, the better results you get.

Despite this being applicable to all positions, middle-management seems especially wanting in this area for three possible reasons;

  • there’s a lot of middle-managers, and it’s usually fed from the bottom up,
  • filling these positions are usually a second (or third) thought,
  • it’s a good politically strategical choice (having allies in the right places).

Example; at a friends workplace, a position is created, an extra layer, between a middle manager and the team (leaders). Making it even more difficult to connect, or make suggestions, or improve anything. But, comfortably buffering the manager from the noise coming from below.

The Trouble Makers

What I’ve learned over the past three years is that the relevance of middle management has gone up.., dramatically so. Where at first we didn’t really know what to do with them, and holding to a philosophy where change happens from the top down and from the bottom up, eventually hitting bedrock in the middle.

The best way to deal with this is to simply blast through it, and if a person wouldn’t budge, well, than s/he better find another place of work, and be annoying there.

The Change Makers

Now things are different, the Social Business movement (now Digital Transformation) has learned that middle management is the most precious of layers within a company.

They are the ones who are in contact with the upper and the lower layers. They are the ones who are the filter between the layers, the communicators, the facilitators.

Of course, any all encompassing change within a company needs to happen on all levels. But, when you start, when you need some surgical precision, where better to start than in the middle?

Leaders vs. Managers

Education, training.., growth.

Where middle management is traditionally the layer that makes sure people are trained and growing properly, we now start with them. But not the regular training and coaching, the classic how-to’s for conflict handing, or the use of software, or (old school) management basics…

No, we will focus on change, on collaboration, trust, empathy, and relationships. We’ll teach them how to be great leaders (instead of sufficient managers), and how to bring out the best in people.

We’ll teach them compassion, and show them what it means to be on the receiving end of an evaluation (because these are hard to get rid off). We’ll teach them how to properly deal with peoples emotions, in a constructive and sustainable manner.

From the Middle

Then.., when the people go through their daily routines at work and see that the person who is in charge is turning into a real leader, a person they can trust, who is there for them, to help, to guide, to listen and support.., then the magic happens.

Then people start to feel less disconnected, become more involved.

The “employee engagement” goes up, will become tangible.

And if you have employees that want to work for you, want to be involved, want to care and invest.., well.., that can only be good for the bottom line, right?

And then the numbers which are pushed upstairs will turn out to be even better, and less of a worry for the manager in the middle.

Arrange a Conversation 


Article by channel:

Read more articles tagged: Featured