Sunday 31 January 2016

The middle manager conundrum

Middle Manager, Hangman, Conundrum

Since around half a year or so I have been writing that I am looking for a, to put it nicely, new challenge in my life. To be more frank I am bored out of my mind and I need a new job to kick start my brain cells again.

I have by now been running my own company for over seven years and I have had between three to seven employees during these years. For a small company that makes you the CEO but for a large one that makes you a middle manager. Times have sometimes been tough with decreased employees and decreased salary but that is how things can be.

Due to my studies in Business Administration and the essay that we had to write in the end I have come to realise what a fatal mistake I have made in my career. The essay lifted my eyes over the plate but I had already before started to suspect that something was not correct.

The thing is... when I had finished my PhD each time I sent out my application to a company I got a call back and a scheduled interview meeting. Now having ten years more experience not only in my field but dealing with everything that comes from starting up a company + applying for positions where simply not thousands of applicants should even be able to apply, I was getting automatically generated replies back saying thanks for the application but please go and die in a corner as far away from us as possible.

I found it very strange to say the least but due to the essay now I know.

There is a principle that is called the Peters' Principle which says more or less that "an employee will be promoted up until the point of incompetence". The thing is that this principle is unfortunately reality. I am sure all of us have seen it happening. That excellent worker that did a good job as *whatever* got promoted to a form of middle manager but actually did not have the skills required for a leader and should have been removed. However bringing a person back down again is often impossible SO you end up with all these incompetent people blocking the promotional ladder AND bringing down the efficiency of entire organisations.

Why does this then happen? That is also easy to answer. With a promotion you practically always also receive more money. It is unfortunately easier for a company to motivate a higher salary to an employee that got promoted then to just give the excellent person the higher salary and to keep them on the position where they do an excellent job. Companies only incentive and appreciation to employees should be salary and it should be completely excluded from having anything to do with the position the person holds. Some companies have realised this and are therefore attempting to work with a manager career ladder and an expert career ladder. It seems to work out so, so but at least they have realised that a problem exists and they are trying to find solutions.

Still over 90% of all middle manager positions (including manager of managers) are filled internally due to this company incentive reason. The major reasons when external people are being brought in are due to that the company is starting up something completely new or there are zero competent employees even remotely interested in taking on the job. Most other cases... for the company to show appreciation someone gets the job internally.

The biggest complication of advancement will be the first one so taking out that skilled employee and making them the group leader. This person have often no track record of leading people and can very often have zero leadership skills but still they get that job and no... they will not be kicked back down again once they are up there. So they block and the group performance goes down with maybe other skilled group members leaving due to incompetence of the "new boss" or simply due to envy which should never be forgotten. Envy is, unfortunately, a strong drive force in the world.

If a company would take a middle manager externally then a lot of the envy will be gone. You even have the chance to pick people that have verified, proven leadership skills. Sure they will not know how everything works in the organisation but honestly how hard can it be? It is not going to be rocket science to figure out how the organisation works and yet even if you are a rocket scientist you would not be hired coming externally.

So even if hiring externally would be extremely beneficial for companies they are not doing it and to be frank this is not something I will be able to change by this little reflection.

The companies of course announce all the positions they have (this includes all governmental bodies) EVEN if they will go for a person internally which makes me waste a lot of time applying. I will not get those middle manager jobs anyway.

This then leaves me with a couple of possibilities: 
  • Accept the brain melt and keep doing what I am doing right now.
  • Try to start at entry level in a large company (but with my ten+ years of experience they seem to turn also that down. I guess/hope they assume I would fall outside of the budget)
  • Completely change what I am doing into a field that cares less of your past and focus on your future
Right now I am pushing #2 and #3 and we will see where that will lead me.

So I have realised and come to accept that I have made a huge mistake in my career. I should have started at the bottom of a large international company and worked my way up. This will be the advice that I will give every young person if they ask me. 

There are so many excellent middle managers sitting around unable to move up one step further, due to them being blocked, and unable to change company since there is hardly no external people being hired. I feel sorry for them if they would like to change. I still hope that the world will change in the future but the habits of humans rarely change by much.


Anonymous said...

Did you try a rapidly expanding small company? Small companies don't have a lot of employment/career advancement policies and can simply do what they see fit. Expanding companies creates new teams quite often and hence managing positions open up frequently.

A quick way in if you're past is "dubious" (i.e. non-standard) is to let them hire you as a consultant so there is no contractual commitment (pension plan, etc). Then convert it to an employment to bring down the cost for the company and to make yourself eligible for a managing position.

Anonymous said...

Hi John-Magic,

Good suggestion! I have recently been in touch with a very fast growing small company and will in a month go there to check out the place. Disturbing that it will take one month but that is how busy the bosses are. I hope there will be a match because the company and its technology is highly exciting and I know we could profit from each other.

-Fredrik von Oberhausen