At the Organizational Design forum today in Denver I had a good reminder of the power of the much maligned middle management layer of many organizations. Middle managers are often the punch line of a joke, the punching bag of consultants, the first to blame when things go bad and the last remembered when things go well and all sing the praises of ‘leadership’.
But it is the middle managers who are the horizontal glue holding many organizations together. They are close enough to operational roles to know how things ‘really’ get done, and they are often the future. There is much to be learned from how middle managers manage to get things done, and how they make decisions every day that affect customers, employees, and partners.
Many thanks to Andrew Zolli from PopTech for a great reminder of the power of the middle in his reference to Hancock Bank’s ability to respond quickly to Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf – back up and getting cash to people just days after the storm.
If a strategy exists, but people don’t use it to make decisions, does it really exist? An existential question? Perhaps, but it is also an important one when thinking about the ROI of investing in a ‘strategy refresh’, or creating a strategy for an organization. The biggest complaint I hear from clients about strategy is that a lot of time and effort (and money) goes into creating it, and it ends up on a shelf somewhere. The people involved in creating it ‘get it’, but they fail to communicate, to role-model, or to apply it. The people who weren’t involved get un-contextualized communications that they can’t hope to apply in a meaningful way.
You need to spend at least as much time helping people understand how to apply a strategy as you do developing it. In today’s VUCA environment of continual change, turnover, market fluctuations, and information moving at warp speed, you can’t afford to have only a few people in the organization who use the strategy to make decisions.
Here’s a presentation I gave recently on the importance of ‘engaged strategy’ – it talks about how to create a different type of strategy that people throughout the organization can use to effectively make decisions: ODF Presentation vf