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Thawing Out the "Frozen Middle"

Posted By Jeff Moad, August 30, 2012 at 3:37 PM, in Category: Next-Generation Leadership and the Changing Workforce

I first came across the term "The Frozen Middle" in a Harvard Business Review article written a few years ago by consultant and lecturer Johathan Byrnes. Byrnes made the point that top executives at many companies were placing their companies at a competitive disadvantage by failing to train their middle managers to think strategically and prepare their organizations for the future. The success of transformational change initiatives is dependent on buy in and support from middle managers, yet middle managers are too often unprepared to think beyond day-to-day operational issues. Hence, said Byrne, they are "frozen" and unable to embrace change.

This term came up again at a recent Manufacturing Leadership Council roundtable discussion on Digital Manufacturing. Several Council members said efforts to digitize key manufacturing processes can lag because of luke-warm response or outright resistance from middle managers. C-suite executives usually get the strategic and competitive reasons for digitizing. And engineers and plant workers embrace digitization because they see first hand the negative productivity impacts of manual, paper-based processes. But, too often, middle managers aren't as enthusiastic about embracing digitization, so focused are they on meeting day-to-day operational objectives, Council members said.

(Members of the Manufacturing Leadership Council can access an edited transcript of the roundtable discussion here.) The Long March Toward Digital Manufacturing} .)

As Byrnes wrote seven years ago, "As managers progress up the business hierarchy, their focus must increasingly shift from managing the company as it is, or as it was, to building the company of the future."

There is evidence, however, that many companies are falling behind even further when it comes to preparing middle managers to think, plan, and act strategically. A recent study by Harvard Business Publishing found that 46% of companies admit to poor investments in next-generation leaders. The study blamed the ongoing recession for companies spending too little on middle management development and focusing more on day-to-day operational results.

Is your company coping with the consequences of the "Frozen Middle"? What can be done to thaw it out?

Written by Jeff Moad

Jeff Moad is Research Director and Executive Editor with the Manufacturing Leadership Community. He also directs the Manufacturing Leadership Awards Program. Follow our LinkedIn Groups: Manufacturing Leadership Council and Manufacturing Leadership Summit


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