Middle managers boost productivity

One-on-one relationships with employees engender respect, trust, loyalty and contribution
By Shannon Klie
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 02/28/2006

Cutting middle management can kill productivity, a new study by McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., found.

“In the zest to downsize and restructure and to make more cost-efficient, often middle-level management positions are restructured out or significantly downsized,” said Rick Hackett, a professor and Canada research chair at McMaster’s DeGroote School of Business.

But this can be a big mistake, he added. Middle managers create important one-on-one relationships with employees that engender respect, trust, loyalty and contribution, said Hackett.

“An organization is not a person, it has to be personalized in some way if we want people to be loyal to our company and our cause and our vision,” he said. “The senior brass is concerned with setting the strategic directions for the organization. It is in the middle- and lower-level management positions that the objectives and vision of the organization are put into practice.”

Two-way communication between supervisors and workers, coupled with recognition of a job well done, builds a reciprocal relationship between employees and management, which in turn leads to a happier and more productive workforce, said Hackett.

But not all middle managers are the same. The study of 162 work settings in China found employees working under effective and respected middle managers were far more likely to go “above and beyond the call of duty” than their under-managed counterparts. Those that didn’t have a good working relationship with their boss had average or substandard performance.

The study illustrates the need for leadership development, said Hackett. “These managers and supervisors need some training and development in terms of how to manage interpersonal exchanges and what’s important for employees in these exchanges.”

The study appears in the current issue of

Academy of Management Journal

and Hackett said that he’s quite confident the findings would be replicated in North America as the study was based on research initially done in Western organizations.

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