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Wharton School researchers have called them “the often overlooked and sometimes-maligned” cogs in a company.
Who are they? Your middle managers.
In a piece titled “People and Process, Suits and Innovators: The Role of Individuals in Firm Performance,” the researchers noted that the “differences between firms are generally attributed to organizational factors – such as routines, knowledge, and strategy – rather than to differences among the individuals who make up firms.” In other words, the people who make on-the-ground decisions.
And in general, smaller firms tend to get the most benefit from good mid-level managers.
Big, process-driven companies — Toyota is used as the example — tend not to be so influenced by their middle managers because the “system” is geared toward the process, and mid-managers and workers are seen as replaceable parts.
Not so with smaller companies, which often rely more on individuals and less on some type of formalized system. Take a look at the people in your own company. Do you have a slick system that’ll run no matter who’s in place? Or are you more likely to rely on people and personalities — “I don’t know what we’d do without Joe or Joan.”
A couple of other interesting points uncovered by the research showed that good middle managers:
- were successful even when switching organizations; that is, the “good fit” theory didn’t apply, and
- showed talent at taking another person’s ideas, implementing them and making them revenue producers — meaning the managers weren’t necessarily innovators, but were good at the practical, business end of the process.