The Entrenched Middle

Posted on · Posted in Middle Management

Some managers can feel as though they are stuck in the middle of the organisation which rapidly becomes an entrenched middle. This can be every bit as damaging as allowing an unchecked, expanding middle (a topic we covered previously on our blog).

What is behind this particular condition?

Here we discuss two possibilities:

1. Middle managers can feel pressured and frustrated. They may feel caught in the middle, between what is happening above or below them in the organisation.

2. Stuck in the middle of the “rust to burn-out” continuum.

Middle managers can feel pressured and frustrated when they are charged with doing things they either don’t believe in, or haven’t been a part of deciding or creating. They can feel caught between the tensions created between the top of an organisation and the front-line; tasked with implementing strategies they may not have had any say in creating. Increasingly finding themselves stuck in the middle, between senior managers who feel the middle isn’t implementing the strategy, and font-line staff who think middle managers are not listening to their perspective.

On the other hand managers can be stuck in the middle either from job burn-out or from stepping back and going through the motion; rusting on the job. A burnt-out manager will lack drive, energy, initiative, creativity, resilience and optimism. In other words, they will become entrenched in the middle. This can often lead mangers to the other end of the continuum: doing too little – rusting in the job.

This condition is variously referred to as: ” retiring on the job”, ”presenteeism”, or face time. Whereas burnt-out managers might still try to put in the hours or the effort, rusty managers have deliberately taken their foot off the gas. Perhaps, they have had their fingers burned by working too hard for too long, or have not received the support or acknowledgement they deserved. Whatever causes someone to turn to the rusting end of the continuum, the outcome is still an entrenched muddle every bit as ineffective as burn-out. Neither position is particularly attractive, both represent a sad reflection on the organisation.

Clearly there is a need for middle managers to find the middle ground, so that there is time to:

1. Recuperate and reflect at work, and

2. work hard on challenging worthwhile work activity.

Have we created an impossible job for middle maangers?

Neither an entrenched nor an expanding middle are satisfactory. How can we re-define the role of middle managers so that it is a more enriching?