Middle managers don’t get a lot of attention or respect. Most business literature focuses on the actions of companies’ senior leaders. Most reorganization efforts try to squeeze the role out through “flattening” or “right-sizing.” Even most business satires are targeted squarely at middle managers, think Michael Scott or Bill Lumberg. But leadership happens at all levels. In most organizations, the impact of middle managers is just as important as that of senior leadership. In a recent study, that impact quantified and researchers found that a good middle manager was worth almost two team members.
In a working paper released last year titled “The Value of Bosses,” Stanford’s Edward Lazaer and Kathryn Shaw, as well as University of Utah’s Christopher Stanton examined the inner workings of a technology-based service firm and calculated the effectiveness of teams and bosses. Because the company used computers to measure the output of teams every hour, it was possible to gather productivity data for nearly 24,000 workers and almost 2,000 bosses for five years. In total, that’s about 6 million productivity measurements. On average, the service teams had nine members and employees changed supervisors four times a year, making it possible to isolate the effects of certain managers.
When they had calculated all of the comparisons, the research team found that adding a tenth worker to teams results in a productivity bump of around 11 percent. However, replacing a low-quality managers with a high-quality one bumped productivity by 12 percent, a significant increase. In their study, the average boss can add 1.75 times the productivity of adding a tenth team member. Clearly, middle managers add value that’s worth of a little recognition.
So what does it take to become a praise-worthy boss?
Teaching. The researchers found that the top-performing managers in the study were more likely to focus on teaching their team solid work skills or habits. They didn’t just supervise employees; they made them better. The results of this study are compelling, not just for middle managers but also for senior leaders. If you are a middle manager, start focusing on how you can better lead your team through teaching and coaching them to improve. If you’re a senior leader, give your middle managers a little praise…then teach them to teach others.
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