What’s the point of middle management? - Politics Forum.org | PoFo

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I was thinking of the phrase that “those closest to the problem are closest to the solution, but furthest from resources and power.” Along with some horror stories from my parents about bosses who have no fucking clue the practical day to day stuff and yet are running the show.
They also cited an exception of a big boss who skipped middle management to talk to those working on the ground level as he felt he got better and more accurate information.

So whats the point of middle management?
It's often said that when a company fails, it is almost always failures at the middle management level.

I think middle management exists because it's hard for say a VP to manage a business unit of say 200. They insert minions in between to do that.

Of course, this added layer can make things complex since those middle manager are humans. Many of which are blood sucking selfish assholes that behave like Trump. Not all of course, but many are like that.

There was a study done by Google that basically stated the max number of people a single person should ever manage is like 6-8. These are so called "two pizza teams". That is, you should be able to feed a team with only two pizzas.

Anyway, I don't know what's the point of middle management. :lol:
Rancid wrote:Anyway, I don't know what's the point of middle management. :lol:


I didn’t know that about the team size thing, cool thing to know.
I feel bad for management including middle managers because they don't seem to hang out with many people. The people they supervise are kinda afraid of them and so they can only hang with other managers, so they're a bit socially isolated.

Middle management are the bitches of upper management. That's their role. There are good middle managers and they have lots of experience on the ground.
Now that we have broken the ice. I'll take another shot at this question.

Middle management is supposed to provide leadership and direction to help execute on the goals/vision of the senior level leaders (VPs and C level). They are also supposed to be able to coordinate cross division work. For example, let's say I'm a business unit engineer. Let's say that I work with customers on integrating our products into their systems. Let's say I get important feedback that should be used in the design of the next version of the product. I need a way to connect with, and directly work with product development teams to make sure this feedback is somehow incorporated into the next product. Middle managers would help make those connections between divisions, and negotiate the expectations and deliverables of each side. Shit like that. Middle management should also be a bullshit filter. Basically, be smart enough to reject work/requests that come into the org that is not of value and a waste of time. Another point to make is that middle management establishes and enforces a hierarchy and culture. I know hierarchy is a dirty word these days, but whatever.

This structure tends to be very top down. That's not to say there's no room for dissent and offering alternative solutions. However, at some point, decisions are made and everyone just needs to fall in line and execute. I think they are a necessary evil. I've been a team lead and am currently a line manager (my boss is the lowest layer of middle management basically). There have been occasions where I break a deadlock by simply saying "I'm the lead on this, this is my call and my failure if we fail, we are going to do X, let's get on this and stop wasting time". Sometimes, you just need a hammer to get shit moving along. However, I've also yielded to the suggestions and ideas of others too. Effective leadership/management is knowing when to let others push things forward, and when to put your foot down and basically say "no, i'm the boss, we're doing what I say now."

One way to get rid of middle managers is to have some sort of consensus approach where all the workers have to agree with the senior leaders on strategy. However, I think this approach would be too slow and inefficient for most modern companies. You have to move fast in business. Trying to get consensus can amount to a massive waste of time (hence why sometimes, as a manager, I've dropped the hammer and just made a call). All the while, your competition is getting ahead of you and eating your lunch. Indecision is worse than making a bad decision in business. When you make a bad decision, you can learn from it and change course fast. When you are paralyzed by indecision, you are cannon fodder for your competition. Further, I think this type of consensus driven setup would result in even more politics and bullshit scheming, and power plays between people. I think this approach would be horrible, and actually create a more toxic environment than we see with more traditional middle management hierarchies. Ultimately, people will not want to deal with that shit and just want to work. I think a middle management would naturally occur in an attempt to remove the inefficiencies of a consensus model.

Again, consensus is good and should be sought after within teams and between teams. However, there are times where you need a strong hand too.
Unthinking Majority wrote:I feel bad for management including middle managers because they don't seem to hang out with many people. The people they supervise are kinda afraid of them and so they can only hang with other managers, so they're a bit socially isolated.

Middle management are the bitches of upper management. That's their role. There are good middle managers and they have lots of experience on the ground.

Depends on the culture. I work at a company where workers generally don't fear managers. I see managers and individual contributors (i.e. workers) hanging out all the time. The group of people I have lunch with regularly are a mix of managers and individual contributors.

Fun fact, many years ago, I was a remote worker. That's to say, my boss was in Chicago, and I was in Austin. I would visit Chicago for 1 week every quarter. The company was starting to go through hard times, so I had to stay at my boss's house to save on travel costs. :lol: I took a shit in one of his bathrooms and clogged the toilet.. fucking embarrassing. :lol: It was a little awkward, but not that big of a deal, we were cool. :lol:
Most people I've ever managed is 8. It became untenable fast. Even 6 is hard to work with. More cunts more problems. 2-3 max. And it should not be so stringent, you can't micro everybody's workload effectively unless you're effectively involved in their responsibilities too.

There should be MORE managers. :excited:
The point of middle-management is to get screwed both ways.

If things go well, the top management gets the credit, it things go wrong, middle-management is blamed.

Middle-management has to suck up to the top while getting kicked from the bottom.

It's the most thankless task in the universe, yet without it, everything will collapse.
Atlantis wrote:Middle-management has to suck up to the top while getting kicked from the bottom.

When you say kicked from the bottom, do you mean kicked by the line management? It strikes me that a lot of organisations are just too small to have middle managers, making do with line managers and executive managers.
Wellsy wrote:So whats the point of middle management?

To deflect blame from top management. Basically their insurance policy. And a reward for subordinance and long term service (loyalty). We all know the money is made on the shopfloor. So they aren't needed if that is what you are getting at. But it should be said that when companies are looking at cost savings, the work force being made redundant isn't the first thing that happens now. It is management restructuring. So they also know how to pay themselves off. :lol:
Wellsy wrote:So whats the point of middle management?

There is no point in middle management, and Covid-19 has made that abundantly clear as most office workers can work from home perfectly well without having some spineless cretin staring over their shoulder every five minutes. :lol:
Rich wrote:When you say kicked from the bottom, do you mean kicked by the line management? It strikes me that a lot of organisations are just too small to have middle managers, making do with line managers and executive managers.

This is true. Many companies are simply not big enough to even have a middle management. At one company, I was a floor worker, and my boss was the VP. :lol:

Getting into middle mangement is a weird career goal.
Rancid wrote:This is true. Many companies are simply not big enough to even have a middle management. At one company, I was a floor worker, and my boss was the VP. :lol:

Getting into middle mangement is a weird career goal.

Hey, what's wrong with aspiring to mediocrity? Even incompetent, spineless nobodies have to dream too.... :eh:
You all are middle management material :excited:

I’m curious about the debate on what is necessary for things to function and pushback on what is just inertia of tradition and certain interests.
I totally agree with the summary that consensus decision making is fucking tedious and slow, a majority vote however still retains the dissent but buckling down because the majority rules. Dissent in discussion, unity in action.
Still slower than having a clear person of authority to make the call and I think representatives who make the final decision are crucial. Their success is of course a push and pull with the team and they can’t stand as a sole director just a indecision breaker and organizer.

In regards to middle management I can see how its because of the complexity and scale of a business in the same way there are all sorts of intermediaries for government as one person can’t do it all but has delegates.
But the concern then is how to have adequate feedback from the frontline to the top.

I like the example in the military of a sniper who needs to wait for authorization to take out a target. By the time its communicated and given authority to take em out, they may miss their window of opportunity.
So the idea is to minimize this need and increase autonomy of people who need to make decisions for themselves. Basically I don’t give a fuck how you do it just get it done. Problem solve, figure it out, you’re an adult.
But against this can be micromanaging, and emphasis on authority that even thinking for ones self is lost as a habit. I’ve heard of guys in the military who report coming back to civilian life rattled that they get to make their own decisions again. But that is also a particular level in the military compared to a tight team who work quite independently as they can’t rely on communication from higher ups.

So then it comes down to what shapes the role to be a do as your told versus you have free reign within these limits. Difference between very restricted procedural work and one which requires creativity.
But then it sounds like even the increased economic need for creative thinking still has people shackled in that they don’t have too much say in the direction of their work due to the profit motive which underpins such work.

Guess I’m thinking of something like Toyota-ism here.
Totyotism (or Toyota-ism) is the term often used, by analogy with Fordism and Taylorism, to refer to the management culture and labour processes dominant in Japan, the US, Europe and other developed capitalist countries in the latter part of the twentieth century.
There are a number of features of Japanese industrial relations which are specific to Japan and which are not implied in the term “Toyotism”. These features include the compliant enterprise unions which represent workers in the large Japanese industrial firms. These enterprise unions are the result of the purge of the Japanese Communist Party carried out by the US Occupation Forces in the “Red Purge” in 1947-48. Public services such as the railway workers and teachers remained under militant leadership. A similar move was instituted by the occupation forces in Germany as well. US support for reconstruction as a bulwark against communism contributed to a rapid achievement of prosperity and industrial peace. Other features of Japanese industry include a number of factors associated with the status of Japan as a defeated power and the need for national reconstruction, as a relative late-comer to modern industry and its relatively recent feudal past, all of which contributed to high levels of labour-management cooperation; the practice of lifetime employment security for employees and promotion according to seniority in the major corporations. It should not be forgotten that inseparable from these conditions which apply to employees of the big corporations is the condition of the majority of Japanese workers who are employed on low wages, on a part-time casual basis with no employment security whatsoever.
This division of the workforce into a relatively privileged, full-time relatively secure core of loyal, male, skilled workers on one hand, and a mass of part-time casual, often female or immigrant, labourers on the other, is however one of the features of what is called Toyotism. Toyotism depends on this culture of labour-management cooperation, multi-skilling and cross divisional problem solving, and the creation of such a culture is the first requirement. Concessions such as employment security, seniority-based wage systems, twice-yearly bonuses, regular promotion from the shop-floor to senior management, as well as management bonuses tied to the bonuses paid to blue-collar workers and a strict work ethic for white-collar employees and managers were used in Japan to cultivate this spirit of cooperation.
In part because the union leader of today may well be the manager of tomorrow, large firms generally practice union-management consultation over broad strategic decisions. They also endeavour to elicit employee participation in day-to-day problem solving and quality improvements in the workplace. Quality circles and employee suggestion systems are widespread. Problems in product and technological development are tackled by cross-functional teams.
Toyotism also alters the relationship between buyer and seller. While demanding of its suppliers just-on-time delivery of components, the producer tirelessly polls its market for direction about the product to be produced. Instead of producing a product and then drumming up a market, the market is found first, and then the product produced to fill the demand.
Toyota is one of the largest automobile manufacturers in the world. It began in 1933 as a division of the Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, Ltd. and during the 1960s and ‘70s expanded rapidly. From a negligible position in 1950, Japan surpassed West Germany, France, Great Britain, and the United States to become the world’s leading automotive producer. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Japan’s principal auto makers enjoyed such impressive export gains in North American and western European markets that restrictions were imposed on Japanese imports.
The Japanese industrialists learnt the new approach to manufacture off the American management consultants who were sent to help restart the Japanese economy under the Occupation. Foremost among what the Japanese learnt were the theories of Elton Mayo [George Elton Mayo, Australian psychologist, born 1880, Professsor of Industrial Research at the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, author of The Human Problems of an Industrial Civilization; died 1949]. The origin of Mayo’s theory was an experiment he conducted between 1927 and 1932 at the Hawthorne plant of the Western Electric Company, in Illinois. The drift of his discovery was a kind of placebo effect [the “Hawthorne effect"]: if workers believed they were being consulted about their work, then they worked harder. It should be emphasised that there was nothing in Mayo’s theory which suggested that workers actually had anything useful to contribute to organising production; his theory was solely concerned with motivating workers.
The most illustrious pioneer of Japanese industrial methods was Ohno Taiichi (1912 – 1990), Toyota’s production-control expert, who devised the just-in-time system (kanban) of manufacture, which raised Toyota from near bankruptcy in 1952 to become the third largest automobile maker in the world, behind General Motors and Ford. Under the unique conditions of post-war Japan, Taiichi was able to take Mayo’s theories further and workers’ involvement in developing production methods went beyond the “feel good” effect for which it was designed and gave a genuine measure of autonomy to the Japanese worker, autonomy of course that was predicated on his absolute loyalty to the company.
These methods allowed automation to be used in a quite new way: instead of the production workers’ role becoming more and more abstract, workers were responsible for the final product and small numbers of highly skilled workers could achieve very high levels of productivity, subjecting production methods to continuous improvements. It is this kind of labour, and its complement in the labour of the casual contract labourer outside the corporation’s core of permanent employees, which began in the Toyota factory in Japan and provided the basis for the “knowledge worker” of the postmodern world.
This kind of labour process generates its own class structure: a working class divided between a mass of very poor, utterly alienated workers who have no job security or on-going relationship with their work on one side, and a core of skilled workers with relatively satisfying work and good employment conditions on the other. At the same time, the boundaries between commerce and production, manufacture and service, worker and manager, all become very murky.

How much autonomy and decisions really come from the ground up? Seems such autonomy is only granted within the roles of those who are pressed to be loyal and given some rewards to maintain that loyalty. This cannot be extended to workers en masse. Is that a structural necessity of the type of work or is it a reflection of the needs for the big bosses to keep a grip on things. How does one distinguish such things?

I get the feeling there is a sense that the average person is an idiot but my impression is that people tend to know their shit when it comes to what they work with because its most of their day to day life. That there can be a denigration of the worker as an idiot and in need of managing but I keep getting the impression it isn’t simply an organizational matter but one of maintaining the integrity of the company’s function to the interests of the big bosses. That hierarchy and organization is needed but the manner in which it functions can be different. And it is in this that see for example the blossoming of administration in certain fields for tightening control than it seems to be for anything necessary.
Even thinking about continuing education units for jobs that require education where it seems a little cottage industry for folks to maybe learn something but just sell presentations and give reason to meet somewhere.
Last edited by Wellsy on 02 Mar 2021 15:41, edited 1 time in total.
Potemkin wrote:Image

A lot of people become managers on accident. That's what happened to me. I actually do not want to be a line manager. I was just sort of thrown into it due to a series of events that were out of anyone's control. Going into middle management is not possible for me though, as I am on the "technical track" within the company. If my boss said "you don't need to manage anyone anymore" I'd be happy, not disappointed. It would be a relief. It kind of sucks because I have to worry about my work, but then also have to worry about the work of the guys that report to me. I don't want to have to care about other people. :lol: :lol: :lol:

Most tech companies split up their career paths into two parts. There's the technical track, and then the management track. The management track is the more traditional track. Where you basically get into middle management, don't really know how to do the work, and just talk a lot about strategy and other shit. This is perfect for assholes and manipulators. They can bullshit their way towards the top in this track. The technical track is more about becoming a technical strategist/architect/visionary. It's much harder to bullshit on this track. In the management track, the pinnacle position would be CEO. In the technical track it would be CTO. Not that I care to ever become a CTO. Fuck that man, I just want to make my money and retire. Fuck work. Fuck chasing a career. My only motivation for getting promotions is more $$$. That's it. Another technical track position many companies have is fellow and senior fellow. This is like top .01% of engineers make to this level. Most companies cap the number of fellows allowed. It's usually like 10 fellows and 10 seniors fellows. You have to wait until a fellow quits or retires before a new one is promoted in. Larger companies will have a few more though.
I work at a small company. Under 100 employees but more than 50.

Middle management watches the underlings. Upper level management often cannot be bothered to see what the underlings are doing.

Working in accounting, I interact a wee bit with upper management. I'm in the minority. Upper management only wants to know about the money. If they can't trust the accountant, they start to trust me more. It's weird but that's how it works at the place where I work.

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