Of all the changes that have impacted on the way we work, digitisation has had the greatest effect so far. The boundaries between home and work have blurred – but so have the boundaries between employee and employer. To become more flexible in responding to a VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) business world, organisations are now leveraging a matrix or network model more and more. Using digitally-connected networks, organisations are able to be much more responsive to the demands of their customers and can leverage agile global supply chains to provide seamless and personalized services and products.

More and more freelancers, temps, independent contractors and solopreneurs

Building networks means the workforce is increasingly composed of independent employees. According to a recent Co-working Market Report Forecast*, 40 percent of the workforce will be freelancers, temps, independent contractors and solopreneurs by 2020. And this is not just a trend we see amongst younger generations: in the US, only about 30 percent of independent employees are Generation Y, whilst 30 percent are Generation X and 30 percent Baby Boomers.

But the growth of this networked model of working has significant implications for the role of the middle manager. Information is shared through these networks and decisions made quickly and locally. Employees may or may not be members of the organisation but still seek a sense of belonging and camaraderie. They have to respond and decide quickly and must have a clear sense of the wider direction to support these decisions.

This means that the middle manager is no longer the expert who holds the information, nor are they the decision maker. They cannot be the wielder of the organisational policy stick, as employees have a wider range of choices about their own employment options; they cannot exert the same level of control as they often have limited oversight of their people.

So the middle manager is no longer important – right?

On the contrary, they’ve actually become even more important. They are the primary connection between the employing organisation and the individual. It is they who translate the wider company strategy to provide the specific, personalized context for each person in their team, recognising the diverse range of contexts in which they work. And it is they who motivate and engage employees to give their best, but without any of the traditional ‘power tools’ that managers have been able to rely on in the past. Instead, the connection they forge is an emotional bond built on personal loyalty. It is their ability to connect the dots that help organisations provide the seamless, connected approach that drives both efficiency and customer satisfaction.

The challenge for businesses is to equip their frontline and middle managers with the capabilities they need to succeed in this new and challenging world.

 Download our thought paper to find out:

  • Why mid-level managers tend to get criticized from all angles
  • Whether these common perceptions are fair
  • How communication is key
  • The three simple steps to re-engage your middle managers


*This article is adapted from Tania Lennon’s “The rise and rise of the middle manager”, originally posted on the  Blog. 

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About Contributor

Anita is a Senior Client Partner and Head of Korn Ferry’s Assessment & Succession practice, Australasia. She works directly with CEOs, CEO successors and top teams and also advises organisations on broader leadership development and talent strategies. Anita’s areas of passion include CEO and senior leadership development and the development of talent in Asia.

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