Middle Level Management - Sandwich Layer and its Importance to Organizations

In previous articles, at many places, we have discussed how the middle management is in the unique position of actualizing change in organizations. We have talked about how the middle management needs to be brought on board for any meaningful change and how the senior leadership cannot alone get things going in any organization. The reason for the importance of the middle management is that they are the “sandwich” layer or the layer between the top management and the employees or the “boots on the ground”. In other words, the middle management is in the unique position of being placed in such a way that they have access to the top management and they can command the loyalty of the regular member’s employees. Hence, any organizational initiative has to necessarily take into account the importance of the middle management in the larger scheme of things.

Many organizational change initiatives fail because the top management would not have communicated the change imperative and the steps to be taken to actualize them to the middle management in a coherent manner. Moreover, the middle management would not have been brought on board or their cooperation and buy-in secured.

Hence, the primary imperative for any policy to be effective is that the managers must be driven to implement the same without leakage and friction. This is the reason many organizations conduct “offsite workshops” for the middle managers where they are explicitly told on what to do and how to implement the change. Further, the sandwich layer means that they can get feedback from the ground and pass it on to the top management. In this way, they act as the bridge between the top management and the employees on the ground.

The middle management is usually the layer that has the highest stakes in ensuring compliance with organizational policies. Appraisals and reviews are conducted by them and the bonus and the salary hikes are decided by them in consultation with senior management. Often, it is the case that the quantum of bonus or the salary hike for the regular member’s employees is decided based on the recommendation of the manager. Hence, the middle managers have to make sure that the employees are conforming to organizational policies as well as ensure that the senior management is made aware of the feedback from the employees. In this way, the middle management acts as conduit between the top and the bottom.

Of course, in many organizations, the middle managers are often played by the power centers and the vested interests because of intra-organizational politics. While not condemning this outright as this is inevitable in all organizations, the point needs to be made that the CEO and the executive leadership must keep a tab on such power plays and ensure that the organization does not suffer. The point here is that the middle management is often at the receiving end from both sides and hence, they are vital and at the same time, an often neglected factor in organizational success.


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Change Management