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Business and Management.
This paper presents an empirical study on the contribution made by middle managers to the development of strategy in an organisation. The data was collected using semi-structured interviews with four managers in randomly-chosen companies. Two of the participant managers held senior management positions while the other two held middle manager positions. The data was analysed using a qualitative approach. Previous studies in this field were found to be wide and varied. An early study by Mintzberg (1978) found that strategy mainly forms from emergent influences at middle and lower levels of the organisation, as well as from deliberate influences emanating at the top. In the same year Miles and Snow (1978) subsequently declared that not all organisations have the same level of strategic management activity. This research found that the most common role for middle managers is to implement deliberate corporate strategy. The synthesis of information appeared to be the only area where middle managers exerted a restricted upward influence. These findings would appear to conflict somewhat with those of a seminal study by Floyd and Wooldridge (1992) who developed a typology of middle managers roles in strategy. They suggest that middle managers have the potential to exert both upward influence on top managers and downward influence on operational level managers. Porter (1996) argued that managers who operate beneath the top strategic level lack the perspective and the confidence to maintain a strategy. He claims the middle level managers’ main role is tactical, not strategic. This would appear to concur with this present study. Other themes that emerged in this research regarding middle managers contribution to an organisation are also evident in the literature. These include middle manager’s soft skills, their political astuteness and the ability to use power well. All research participants in this study agreed that the possession of excellent ‘soft skills’ by middle managers was a hugely 3 important aspect of their role. They felt that these soft skills were essential for the smooth execution of strategic change and implementation. These findings concur with Hardy (1996) who argues that to overcome the shortcomings regarding an organisational strategy, middle managers must be capable of acting politically and using their power. Hardy (1996) declares that power is needed to orchestrate and direct actions that are crucial to the realisation of strategic goals within organisations. Similar declarations were made by participants of this study. One additional interesting interpretation of this study was that it appears desirable that middle managers are ‘effective followers’ as described by Kelley (1992) mainly because of their position in the organisational hierarchy. The author claims that effective followers and effective leaders are often the same people playing different roles at different parts of the day. It seems that the main contribution by middle managers to strategy development, primarily implementing deliberate strategy, should not be seen as a lesser task than choosing the strategy in the first case. It appears from this study that middle managers can, and do, make a significant contribution to the strategic development of an organisation. However, contrary to declarations in the literature, the findings would appear to conclude that middle managers have little influence on the choice of strategy adopted by their organisation. It may be that not every middle manager should aspire to be top managers because their own role as middle manager is unique in itself and therefore has a very important place within the structure of an organisation. A wise middle manager, acting with integrity and possessing the necessary soft skills can pave the way for a smooth transition of strategic change and implementation which may be crucial to the outcomes of their organisation.
Kealy, T.: Do Middle Managers Contribute to their Organisation's Strategy? IAM (Irish Academy of Management) Conference, Waterford Institute of Technology, Waterford, Ireland, 2nd-4th September, 2013.