The middle manager is dead. Long live the middle manager. Or is he? In the recession, many companies flattened their management structures by shortening their chains of command and stripping out middle managers.
But today middle managers are still with us - albeit in fewer numbers.
The difference is that they have shed their pin-striped, command-and-control role and evolved into hands-on team players.
Richard Goldie, chief executive of Macmillan Davies Hodes, an executive search and recruiting services firm, says that over the last three or four years, the infrastructure of management has been rebuilt. Staff functions such as personnel, training and internal management accounting, which were decimated during the recession, are beginning to make a comeback.
And the roles of managers at the sharp end of the business in marketing, manufacturing and distribution are also being radically redefined.
'In the old days, everybody had a boss,' says Goldie. 'These days everybody has a customer.' The people being appointed at both ends of the business are not managers in the classic, hierarchical pyramid, in charge of a department and responsible for allocating work to other employees. The new managers are there to execute a key activity and, almost incidentally, also to manage the work of the other employees. Such people, he adds, must add value to the organisation's performance, be more commercial and customer-focused.
This is also true of backroom functions. Head office specialists no longer have a right to exist just because their function was included in a traditional organisational chart. Such people have to think in terms of having internal customers. They have to sell their ideas and services to the front end of the business. 'So you have to make presentations, sell your ideas, market them, work out why they add value and why they deserve to exist,' he claims. 'Therefore people are hiring attitude and personality, not just competence.'
Frances Cook, managing director of careers consultants Sanders and Sidney, agrees. 'A lot of organisations felt that they had streamlined too far and, now, they are having to bring people back into the business,' she explains. 'But I do not think that these people are the same people.' She believes that the people who are now going back into the organisation are more task-or project-oriented than management-oriented. 'The new roles that are emerging are much more closely associated with the direct management of the business, the achievement of targets, the enhancement and development of products, than with the idea of a team leader of 20 people who reported to the manager, who reported to the senior manager, who reported to the director.'
A different set of skills are now associated with middle management, claims Angela Baron, policy adviser at the Institute of Personnel and Development. Businesses are looking for coaching, mentoring and enhancing team roles, rather than the command-and-control responsibilities previously associated with middle managers, she says. 'People are now far more likely to be found on the shop floor, getting their hands dirty.' They are now demanding much more focused and commercially driven managers, adds Jerry Gray, an executive director of recruitment firm NBS, with a sharper and broader set of skills.