It's interesting to pair the argument that technology will spell the death of middle management, a position taken by Lynda Gratton, a professor of management practice at London Business School, and research by Wharton management professor Ethan Mollick, that finds middle managers some of the most valuable people in the organization.
Technology has become the great general manager. It can monitor performance closely, provide instant feedback, even create reports and presentations. When technology can play much of the role of the manager - why have one?
Meanwhile, Mollick spent 12 years studying companies that produce PC games. With so many games online these days - and certainly since Mollick excluded games played on consoles - his research seems dated though it was just released. Yet he generalizes his work to other knowledge-based companies and concludes that the quality of middle managers has a direct bearing on the company's bottom line.
Mollick analyzed games that accounted for about $4 billion in revenue and included 537 individual producers [managers], 739 individual designers and 395 companies. In the game industry, among these managers' duties are to determine which ideas are brought to fruition, making sure projects have the proper resources and project management. And he found the skills of good managers were portable when they took a new job.
According to the Knowledge@Wharton article:
Managers accounted for 22.3 percent of the variation in revenue among projects, as opposed to just over 7 percent explained by innovators and 21.3 percent explained by the organization itself-including firm strategy, leadership and practices.
High-performing innovators alone are not enough to generate performance variation; rather, it is the role of individual managers to integrate and coordinate the innovative work of others.
Studies over and over show workers promoted to management often receive no training for their new positions. Google took a data-driven approach to change that and took plenty of grief over its rather obvious results. But at least it provides training.