Christine Herrman, O.G. Bills fan, sunset yogi, granola chef.
Middle management typically represents the level of leadership above the front lines, and below senior leadership of the business. Essentially, they’re the meat of the management sandwich.
And since we’re on the topic, consider the last sandwich you ate. What was the name of it? Was the meat of the sandwich included in the name? More often than not, it is - Meatball sub, tuna melt, veggie burger...Why is the meat usually in the name? Because it’s important to the taste, composition, and surrounding accompaniments. The meat’s influence is felt throughout the sandwich, and we eaters make multiple decisions based on the meat. For example, condiment selection (roast beef and horseradish sauce), cheese selection (ham and swiss), veggie selection (Italian beef and giardiniera), bread (burger and brioche)...these are traditional examples but are constantly being reworked creatively based on the eater’s preferences, the list goes on.
Which brings me (hungrily) back to middle management.
Middle managers, sandwiched between front line managers and more senior level leaders, sit in unique and influential positions. Middle managers must have a deep understanding of daily business operations, while simultaneously understanding strategic decisions and vision from the top. Done well, middle management is “in the know”, well-positioned for thoughtful decision making, while also tactically taking a systems thinking approach, considering future implications on the whole of the business and its people.
And just as a fresh, well-seasoned piece of meat can make or break its namesake sandwich, well-trained, competent middle managers can make or break an employee experience and a business's strategy and success. Not only do these managers lead front-line management and employees who directly touch the product/service and customer, but they also pose a significant amount of influence on top-level management, keeping them connected enough to daily operations to make strategic, well-informed decisions. Their position is a difficult one that requires a delicate balance between basic management skills, strategic leadership, and the influential aptitude to manage up. Not to mention, they must also have the ability and keen awareness to flex their style at every turn to steer the business in the desired direction.
Organizations would be wise to think about their last sandwich when considering investment in their middle managers, and remember the level of influence they (meat and middle managers) have; the success of their business (and sandwich) depends on them. Ensuring middle managers are prepared to think both tactically and strategically must be a key imperative. Resources to recruit, develop, retain, and engage this level would not be wasted.
Just think, you would never skimp on the meat of the sandwich, would you?