(Joyce) #1
Image problems
As anyone who has watched The Office knows, middle management has an
image problem. The phrase conjures an anonymous group that can easily spill
into caricature — disillusioned, passed over for promotion, declining in their
importance to the organization, Luddites. The description of middle management
used by Maile Carnegie, group executive of digital banking at ANZ Group in
Australia, in a recent article is unsparing: “people in [the] organization who are
no longer experts in a craft, and who have graduated from doing to managing
and basically bossing other people around and shuffling PowerPoints.”
Leaders need to be aware of when these behaviors happen and try to
understand the reason. They are missing an opportunity if they fail to see the
skepticism or “stuck-ness” of middle management as a cultural issue that can
be addressed and solved, and only believe it to be a universal truth that must
be tolerated. Take the case of a major digital transformation PwC supported
at a multinational retail bank. Within
middle management were a subset of
managers known as the “technical
gurus” who had a shared tendency to
overintellectualize and use technology
jargon that complicated issues. Any
attempt at change became bogged
down in a complexity of their own
making; coworkers confronted by
the gurus’ tech-speak and resistance lost the will to live, let alone to see the
transformation through. The core problem was the long-standing culture of the
bank, in which technical expertise was highly valued, which meant the technical
gurus were more likely to be listened to. That had the effect of obstructing the
development of practical, workable solutions offered by non-technical managers
who didn’t have senior management’s ear.
It’s clear that middle management is not a monolithic block. Some managers
will put up barriers, or, as Carnegie says, “resist change like death.” Those on
the front lines may have good reason to question the way leadership is going
about change, even if they do not question the need for change itself. Others

Leaders are missing an
opportunity if they fail to
see the skepticism
of middle management as
a cultural issue that can
be addressed.






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