Middle managers: making innovation happen

Middle managers are often the unsung heroes who contribute far more in driving innovation forward than people realise, new research by Columbia Business School has found.

by Columbia ideas@work
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

The research, by Rita McGrath, shows that they help to make things happen once new ideas have got off the ground because of their knowledge of the networks within their organisations and their ability to manage projects and implement policies. They can make the right connections across the organisation, find the required resources and, where necessary, provide the space and protection for workers to work on something that needs to be done.

The kinds of things they typically do, such as getting assets moved to the production line, are not typically part of a middle manager's job specification, which is one reason their role in this regard goes unrecognised. Instead, their job spec will include such items as "increase operational efficiency" or "decrease costs by 5 percent".

Giving middle managers the resources and permission to use their networking and managerial skills is one important step towards leveraging this important human resource. For example, Procter & Gamble's policy of calling on its staff to find more than half of the company's innovations from outside gave its middle managers the permission to scout outside for ideas.

Middle managers are sometimes wary of driving innovation at the R&D stage because companies don't give them credit when an idea fails, even though the knowledge gained may have provided valuable lessons to another more successful project run by someone else.

The unsung heroes of corporate growth
Columbia ideas@work
May 2007
Review by Morice Mendoza

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