Middle Management, Manager Image by Gerd Altmann from PixabayProductivity platform ClickUp has published findings from a survey which reveals that middle management are crucial within organisations. The survey of 1,265 knowledge workers across the US and UK by Researchscape found that 81% of knowledge workers believe that middle management is most responsible for driving productivity.

ClickUp has defined middle managers as those managers below the top level and in charge of departments or groups. This is quite a broad definition, though.

Academics Feltrinelli, E., Gabriele, R. and Trento, S., 2017 noted that, “the importance of management quality, as far as the persistence of relative productivity is concerned, appears to be more determinant than worker quality.”

68% of the respondents felt that their middle management was very or extremely effective.

This is the same conclusion as that drawn by ClickUp. A business is highly productive if its middle management is effective. Where organisations are rated highly productive by knowledge work, 73% of respondents said that their middle managers were also productive. Conversely, where the organisation did not have high productivity, only 26% rated their managers as highly effective.

Do We Need Middle Managers?

Chris Hicken, Chief Productivity Officer at ClickUp. Image credit - LinkedIn
Chris Hicken, Chief Productivity Officer at ClickUp

Chris Hicken, Chief Productivity Officer at ClickUp, commented, “Middle managers have been given the short end of the stick for far too long. Often maligned and increasingly squeezed between demands from top executives and the wider workforce, we must recognise the crucial role they play as drivers of productivity.

“There is a danger businesses may underestimate or overlook vital personnel that can help deliver impactful change within an organisation. When we empower middle managers, all stakeholders across the organisation are better informed, projects and campaigns move along seamlessly, and everybody works toward a common goal.”

While Hicken makes a good point, the problem is often that there are too many layers of middle management between the leadership and the workforce. It might have been interesting to ascertain where productivity is low and how many levels of middle management were in place at those organisations.

Another benefit of middle managers

Not only does the survey highlight that middle managers have a positive impact on productivity. ClickUp also looks at the impact of Remote Working. The survey identified that 73% of middle managers believe that they are at least as effective or more effective since remote working began. 60% of their colleagues agreed, and for the executive level, 79% of employees believe that remote working has made them more effective.

The challenge is that the survey is purely quantitative. It does not deliver answers to any of the important questions that a qualitative survey might have answered. Why are they more effective? Has the return to work changed things in some organisations? Has it made employees and middle managers more or less effective?

The survey did investigate the challenges that remote work is seen to deliver; these included:

  • Difficulty building personal connections – 64%
  • A reduced ability to observe employee performance – 63%
  • Communication and collaboration challenges – 68%

While 40% of knowledge workers believe that remote working has made their managers’ jobs harder, only 23% of employees believe that it has made them less effective.

Not surprisingly, ClickUp also asked the question about how middle managers could improve organisational productivity. 84% saw better tools as one answer. It may not be the only one, though. Writing in HBR (registration required), Moss Kanter noted that increasing productivity is directly related to the creative and mainly innovative skills of the middle manager. Feltrinelli, E., Gabriele, R. and Trento, S. also noted that “off-the-job formal training for middle management has a significant non-linear exogenous effect on total factor productivity.”

Enterprise Times: What does this mean

These statistics provide what could be the basis of a fascinating report by ClicKUp. The sample size is significant. However, it is unclear how the sample is broken down by job role, country or company size. What is one big take out is that middle management has a significant and valuable place in organisations. In addition, they are immensely valued by employees.


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