Where does work really get done in business today? The execs at the top plan strategy, decide on M&A, manage Wall Street expectations, set the cultural tone, handle the senior exec to senior exec interactions, keep score, and do a fair amount of approving and vetoing. The people at the bottom are learners and doers. But the notion of top, middle, and bottom doesn’t jibe with where the center of powert really resides. Middle management is therefore a misnomer. Middle is quickly becoming top in how work gets done and success is achieved in today’s business ecosystems.
Hyper-connected organizations demand flattened organizations, and need the support of new collaborative business networks. Decisions affecting business success and failure are happening in ecosystems, where peer and group interactions in real time dictate what gets done. Traditional IT systems of record, while still useful as data archives, are giving way in importance to more dynamic collaborative systems that are finally beginning to take root in supporting how business really gets done. This consumerization of IT portends the advent of enterprise YouTube, enterprise Twitter, enterprise Facebook, and the like in forms that meet enterprise requirements….with functionality that aligns with today’s middle management communication modalities.
In flat organizations, everyone is expected to think and act like a leader irrespective of increasingly anachronistic hierarchies. Middle management “owns” the discrete products, services and solutions that are made and sold and supported in networks, and thus determines business outcomes. Collaboration as a workstyle, so familiar to today’s teens and Millenials, underscores the fact that information is the currency of business and the free flow of information across networks drives what and how things get done. Controlling information…a prerogative of senior management in many traditionally organized companies today…is a death nell strategy. Similarly, holding approval and veto power at the top constrains decision making and speed while disempowered middle management. Platitudes from the top, such as “people are our most important asset” won’t cut it when supreme power is closely guarded at the top. While a select few decisions will still reside at the top, the vast majority of decisions belong in the middle underpinned by collaborative business systems as enablers.
As companies embrace the new realities, it is clear that the future of power resides in middle management. Today’s forward thinking companies get it…others living in command and control hierarchies better get it soon.