Travesties of Middle Management

                                                               By Dr. Ashutosh Karnatak 

 It is interesting as well as baffling to work in the corporate world. When you join the management team and start rising up in the hierarchy, you face many ups and downs. Your  experience of years tempers you and transforms you into a product which now comprises of different ingredients like aggression, submission, competition, knowledge, foresight, farsightedness, tolerance in general, tolerance for insultsetc. And as the sea makes its waves temper the stone blocks on its banks, the corporate life makes you like these stones which have no feeling but the capacity to tolerate any blow of the sea storm. 

This corporate world can be divided into three layers:

 Ø      Top Management

Ø      Middle Management

Ø      Lower Management  

From the above classification itself it is clear that Middle Management is like a grinder between two layers, where, if any grain is put, it will come out in the form of a powder. Middle Management is analogous to this, and is basically an interface between Lower Management and Top Management.


Management System: In order to manage day-to-day-affairs of the company, the management hierarchy model is developed so that there is clarity of roles and functions and all the works are not concentrated at one point or a  few clergymen. This structure was followed in the medieval times when the King was the supreme, and his Wazir (prime minister) and other ministers were there to help them.


The Mauryan administration under Ashoka was in many ways similar to that of new-age big corporates. Asoka, like previous Mauryan kings, was at the head (like Top Management of corporate houses comprising of group of individuals to maintain democratic character) of the centralized administrative system. He was helped by a council of ministers (Middle Level Management) that was in charge of different ministries like taxation, army, agriculture, justice, etc. The empire was divided into administrative zones (Workcenters), each one having its hierarchy of officials. The top most officers at the zonal level had to keep in touch with the king. These officers took care of all aspects of administration (social welfare, economy, law and order, military) in the different zones. The official ladder went down to the village level (Lower Level Management).


The similar format of governance has been adopted by our corporate for conducting their day to day affairs.


Lower Management: It is the layer which is involved more on mundane activities of the organisation. Here, role in decision making and strategic issues is much less. They help the middle management to carry out different works.


Middle Management: It is the management group which is stressed up to the limit of elasticity. This layer is sandwiched between Lower and Top Management. Officials at this level have to comply with the top management instructions, and get the job done from lower management. It is basically transition of the follower to the leader, transition from worker to executor etc. The travesty of the Middle Management is:


Ø      To get firing from Top Management and take it like the poison inhaled by Lord Shiva.He can not pass it to down further below as he has to make sure that people are always motivated.

Ø      He can not take fault of others , because  they will perceive him as a critic 

Ø      He has to appreciate others as it is one of the motivation factors.

Ø      He has to ask for the welfare of others’ family members : being in the middle management ,  he has to ignore his own family.

Ø      He has to sit late in the office leaving his family behind but letting others go to take care of their respective families.

Ø      He has to pass on clear cut instructions down below,  whereas top management approach is opaque.


Some of the experiences are being shared below:

 1) For survival tune self as per requirement of boss- become his tool : 

In the corporate world, the positioning of boss is very important and it is required to be understood clearly. When asked about the boss, one of our seniors has told, that if one is not able to understand or manage with the boss, how can he be expected to manage in life. Many of the senior officials think that they have reached to a level now where they can have their own stand. It may be true when one or two official are there with the boss, but when there is a galaxy of subordinate officials, things are different. In the corporate world, apart from your performance, support from boss is more than important because performance is the key requirement at workplace .

 Let us visualise the various requirements of bosses (he or she are no different in this regard) : 

1)     Timely completion of the task in hand.

2)     Least problems to be posed to him.

 3)     Compliance of instructions whatever and whenever given .

4)     Wants to get him shadowed, so that you become his eyes and ears.

5)     You have to be there whenever he wants i.e you become his tool whenever or in whatever way required by the boss--always, anywhere, anytime. 

Role mentioned above at point number 5 is the ultimate which any boss is looking for.  A good subordinate understands the boss’s requirement i.e he tunes himself with boss’s/management frequency, so that maximum output is obtained. This is analogues to the tuning of transmitter and receiver frequency in telecom system so that efficiency of the signal is maximum.  

Secondly, one must understand that in the Top Management, the person holding the fort is all alone. He takes the position of the final decision-maker and looks up for an executer who possesses 100% efficiency. In fact, he looks for self-sacrificing officials.This breed may not be easy to get hold of, but in big corporates one can spot such  executives who are ever ready to  opt this route to in order to succeed . 

 Middle Management officials are required to act as a tool to be used by the Top Management. The Top Management, in turn, require this tool and know the exact time to use this particular tool. You should not be blunt in yo ur dealings with the Top Management, otherwise it will not take no time to sideline you. It may also be noted that the Top Management is ruthless in taking action. It has to be borne in mind that they give much less importance to the warmth of old relationships which was there earlier. They just look for the officials who can get those results. 

In fact with this approach, management becomes very effective and efficient as they have a good team of executors, who will have the capability of converting dreams of management to reality.

 2) People have very less initiative, they just follow  As explained above, the Middle Management has to execute plans of Top Management and convert these to reality. However, Middle Management   has its own travesty as they have  to get the work executed by people working with them.  Of late, it has been felt that complacency to orders causes lack of initiative in the working personnel .The flock of this category believes that the work given to them if completed is sufficient for their survival. They do not have the desire to do work extra and do any kind of innovation, or taking any initiative. It means that more numbers of followers are being evolved than leaders.  Under these circumstances, persons from the Middle Management find themselves in a very tight situation i.e. if they will not think of something innovative, no one else will. They themselves have to think for solution of a problem so that as others may follow you because these “others” can not work out a solution. 

3) People don't follow instruction till you have blessing of superior  It is a typical malice which was observed by me that instructions are not being followed by the workforce working under you as they have blessings of the Top Management. This is not the right way of management function but then it is the reality. The Top Management has, as such, no concern on such issues as the Middle Management has to execute the work and it is his capability to get the work done, otherwise he will be termed as inefficient from the people from the Top Management. What a travesty!! What to do – one need to find his own solutions to this.  

4) Instructions can be followed only when other party has threat, gets convinced etc. It is also one of the issues faced by the Middle Management, and is particularly true with the officials who are immediately below the Middle Management. It has been experienced that if one wants to start something new in the organisation, inertia is always faced. There is a resistance to change. In fact people feel that they should do only those things which give them visibility. They are very smart to do only A- type work and which gives them immediate credit. 

 “In one of the organisations a General Manager “A” was posted who was responsible for all the departments like projects, contracts, Finance etc . He was a person with a system-approach. He intended to start a particular system of resolving problems, and consequently issued a circular for meeting every Wednesday at 11 am for discussing the issues needing such resolutions. But to the surprise of A, the meetings could never be held. A was knowing the psyche of the persons involved in this. So, one day he called a meeting to discuss on the reasons for not holding such meetings. All the members expressed their readiness to be available as and when A called them, and their commitment to resolve the issues.But, they never wanted to be tied up with timings of meeting at 11 AM. Ultimately, it was resolved that the meeting will be done as and when required, but the system which A wanted to develop could not be developed.

 This is the travesty of Middle Management. 

 5)     Environment feeds information, sometimes wrong, to the Top management, who in turn takes your feedback, compares both the versions, and then fires you on your shortcoming.  

 It becomes difficult to stop the environment in feeding information to the Top Management. The problem with Top Management is that they trust more on the environment than their own people. They prefer to find fault with their own people than visualising the issues of the environment. Such situations are required to be handled by the Middle Management with dexterity as they are responsible for both environment and management. It is advisable to handle such situation by taking information form the Top Management and avoid reacting to the situation at that particular time. Get the correct information analysis, and put up the same to the Top Management to illustrate the correct scenario for clarify the subject matter. Here it is emphasised that it is mandatory on the part of the Middle Management to appraise the correct situation to the management. This would result in two advantages:


Ø      In case your were correct with your version on the particular situation, Top Management will repose confidence and if such situations are repeated and your version comes more correct than the environment, it would enhance your credulity and reliability.

Ø      In case you were not found correct then it is a time to introspect your own information system and get updated with corrections and improvements, and the required information.


It has been seen that at Middle Management level, people are not updated with the latest information and when some information is required by the Top Management, the typical response of the officials at Middle Management level would be, “Sir, I will check and come back on this issue.” Ideally the information should have already been with you and you should have been able to reply on it. One should be able to understand the requirement of the management and update accordingly.

So, abovementioned are some of the situations which Middle Management has to face. Nevertheless, working in Middle Management is very interesting and fortunate as most of the policies and plans are implemented through this level. Thus, Middle Management is required to accomplish the objectives, strategies etc. of the Top Management efficiently and effectively. Also, the Middle Management people make themselves empowered to face day to day travesties, which makes them more strong and efficient, just as the tree facing the swirling wind makes the tree stronger day by day by facing it repeatedly. 
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