(2003-09-03) Middle Management Thread

Here's a Blog Thread to follow:

  • Arnold Kling from 1998 on Fast Company's Middle Management-targeted ethos. Put in these terms, it is easy to see why (a) - (c) sounds like the holy grail to middle managers. It also makes it easier to understand why shareholders may see it differently.

  • Arnold Kling from Jul19'2003 revisiting that in a new context. The reality is that top management does not want middle managers to be risk takers. Top management wants middle managers who are great platoon leaders, who can motivate the troops to do as much work for as little money as possible... But if there is something that has kept Cadagin from reaching the highest levels, my guess is that it is because she is willing and able to handle confrontations. After reading David Brooks' Bobos In Paradise, I noted that the fundamental ethos of the bourgeois bohemians seemed to rest on the principle, "Thou shalt not confront."... And it keeps someone with Cadagin's skills and temperament from rising above the mediocrity in the management layers on top of her. (Gervais Principle)

  • Jonathon Peterson responded on July21 - I think their are good reasons for pushing rewards to middle management and using it as a vector for Innovation. Executives of big companies are intensely focused on two things: internal politics and the stock price... Telling middle managers that they are important may be nothing more than a way to sell more magazines, but the reality is that execs in large companies are decades divorced from any real hands on knowledge of how their own companies work. Outside Consultant-s make billions by listening to middle managers and reporting their thoughts to executives.

  • Dana Blankenhorn responded to that with All middle managers are bureaucrats. Regardless of whether their function is directed inward or outward, middle managers are looking only at a small piece of the puzzle, and their natural desire to grow that piece runs counter to what businesses must do in order to succeed. If you really have a Clue, you have to run your own shop. That means starting from scratch. It means becoming (at least for a time) a small business. (SmallCo)

  • Jonathon Peterson responded That is a hard statement to swallow, but it's entirely correct. Those of us who have bashed our heads on the walls of corporate america trying to drive innovation from the inside have largely wasted our time. We have wanted to have it both ways, the security of large corporate (BigCo) employment with the excitement of innovating. There are very few opportunities for that sort of thing and they are usually transitory in nature. The DotCom bubble was an aberration that allowed all us cool kids to think that we would be able to reinvent the world without having to roll up our sleeves, mortgage our houses, max out our credit cards and build stuff that worked. Those rose-colored glasses are gone now. I love Tom Peters and am all about his cool projects, personal branding (Brand You), etc. but at the end of the day if you REALLY want to do cool projects for big companies you really have to do them from the outside.

  • Arnold Kling responds. Middle managers have valuable skills and they do important jobs... I think that people often over-estimate the personal risk involved in starting a business. The downside is that you will backtrack a bit financially. But people do that in other ways, too. A lot of times, people who are stuck in their careers will take time off to get an MBA or another type of degree. If you instead put that time and money into starting your own business, at the worst you may learn more and acquire more useful skills than you would get by going to school. At best, you may get lucky and pull off a success.

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