The real job of middle management

Tokyo Tube

Matt Darling invented a system called Smart Ward in the most tragic of circumstances.  It puts touchscreens into hospitals which look like the ones in hospitality where staff use wristbands to identify themselves then can enter and access data.  The result is less duplication and more reliable information, allowing nurses to do what they’re good at – nursing, and reducing mistakes due to admin overload.

ABC ran this article the day before Christmas, and a warning that the photo of Matt’s little girl may bring a tear to your eye.

Here’s the point:  the decision to implement a system such as this is why middle management exists.

By middle management, I’m talking about that layer above those who manage the frontline, and below the Executive or General Managers.  This level has the accountability for asking ‘is there an overall better way we should be doing things around here?  How does the best in the world in our show do it?   And how would that allow us to deliver what we do better?’

Note I wrote the decision to implement.  I’m not suggesting that it’s the job of middle management to come up with Smart Ward.   It is, however, the job of middle management to make sure there’s a way they will somehow find out about such things.  That they can access good advice on aspects they need to learn more about.  And they can then put all the pieces together to come to a conclusion on how to move forward.

The jokes about ‘middle management’ come when the above work isn’t happening, and the middle manager is actually just an additional manager of frontline staff.   Someone not adding value is almost immediately sniffed out, especially by those at the front.

And it’s not always the middle manager’s fault.  It can happen if General Managers don’t clarify the value the organisation exists to create, then don’t provide the freedom and resources their middle managers need for this crucial job.

So if you’re a middle manager, what was the last system-wide improvement you looked into?  If time is the problem, then your first improvement is to re-prioritise your work.  And if you don’t have the freedom or resources to do so, then it’s time to suit up for an honest conversation upwards.

Because making their whole show run better is what middle management is being paid to do.


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