There has been a massive reduction in middle management positions in recent years which raises questions about the role of the manager in 21stCentury businesses.
Is the management hierarchy giving way to greater employee empowerment?
Have we moved to a world where actually much routine management is no longer a discrete function but is now a part of doing a job as part of the value chain?
To what extent has initiative taking been devolved to members of staff, who no longer want to feel managed and want to get on with the job themselves?
Many of the historical management functions, such as decision making, organising, planning and administration, can be carried out by members of staff if they are suitably trained, empowered and experienced to take them on and there is some mechanism whereby they can be accountable for their actions.
Arguably a flatter organisation with fewer levels of hierarchy is more efficient and more competitive being less expensive due to the need for fewer staff and much quicker when decision making doesn’t require management.
If a business is known for empowering its employees it can also make it easier attract more highly-skilled people which in turn contributes to being more efficient and competitive.
Efficiency or stagnation?
In many ways when a business is stable and working efficiently there is no need for the traditional management role of overseeing the activity of others.
So while there is still a need for senior managers even in a business with a flatter hierarchy, their time is freed from overseeing the actions of others to focusing on the strategic, on management of specific issues and on one-off problems that are not part of the day to day course of business. Trained, experienced and empowered staff can now deal with such things as customer complaints, refunds, advancing loans or monitoring processes for example.
Therefore, the core role of management is now more about mentoring and providing support for the empowered and capable staff and less about supervising them as with a historical command and control approach to business.
There is however another view: businesses that are going nowhere don’t need managers to administer genteel decline. A fear of risk and little appetite for growth among owners and investors has resulted in many businesses pursuing short-term profits. Those with ambition need managers to make decisions, to take risks and deal the challenges ahead if they want to be successful.