By Published On: 27 June 2024
Table of contents

In the corporate theatre, the Death of a Middle Management is unfolding. At Novartis, they moved to unbossing. Bayer’s CEO announced Dynamic Shared Ownership. ABB called it Agile. Different names, but the common feature is the elimination of middle management roles.

The Shift in Organisational Structure

Organisations are restructuring to empower frontline employees, allowing them to exercise their judgement, self-organise, deal directly with customers, and make decisions. This eliminates layers of management, bureaucracy, and red tape, along with middle managers. Senior leaders believe this shift enhances operational efficiency and drives innovation.

The Great Managerial Dream

With uncanny parallels to the play Death of a Salesman, many middle managers were sold a dream. Not the great American dream, but a great managerial dream. Most middle managers left behind their technical backgrounds to move into management roles. For example:

  • The research engineer moves to a research manager.
  • The scientist becomes a scientific director.
  • The lecturer is elected as academic dean.

This dream was enhanced with high-status rewards like a bigger salary, an important-sounding title, a larger share of office real estate, and your mug shot on the website. Like Willy Loman, the main character in Death of a Salesman, the quagmire of lies becomes a reality.

Hit with an Agile Sledgehammer

As these transformation programs sweep through, many middle managers are left with three options:

  • Redundancy – Job gone, you’re gone, and here’s your cheque.
  • Redeployed – Job gone, reapply for a new job as an executor (scientist, engineer, etc.).
  • Retired – Job gone, you’re old, so retire early.

It’s not surprising they are angry, upset, and confused. Not only is their dream gone, but also the hours and loyalty invested in chasing the dream.

Life After the Death of the Middle Manager

But there is life after the death of the middle manager. I’m working with several clients who’ve moved on to new opportunities. Here are a couple of approaches:

  • Can’t Beat Them, Join Them – Chris trained to be an agile coach, adapting to the new organisational culture and focusing on professional development.
  • Back to My First Love Approach – Angela is going back into a technical field she previously enjoyed, rebalancing priorities and enjoying life without long hours. This transition highlights the importance of aligning career choices with personal passions.
  • Retired but Not Tired – Karen is mentoring young startups with her 30 years of expertise from a corporate role. This reflects the value of senior executives’ insights and experience in fostering innovation.
  • Go Big or Go Home – Andrea applied for an executive-level role and is in, proving that with the right strategy, senior leadership positions are still attainable.

The Future of Middle Management

If your options are starting to look more limited as a transformation program unfolds, then don’t wait until the options are decided for you. Let’s have a call.

The reduction of middle management roles is reshaping corporate hierarchies. Companies must focus on employee development so that both managers and employees are equipped to handle new responsibilities and tasks – including training and development programs to enhance productivity and ensure a smooth transition for all team members.

The Role of Leadership

Effective leadership is about more than just cutting costs, eliminating middle management and increasing efficiencies. It’s about fostering a supportive organisational culture where employees feel valued and engaged. Employers must provide clear career paths and opportunities for growth, ensuring that their workforce remains motivated and productive. Senior leaders and top executives need to recognise the human capital in their workforce and find ways to leverage their skills and experience.

Subscribe to our free newsletter