Dear Colleagues!  This is Asrar Qureshi’s Blog Post #807 for Pharma Veterans. Pharma Veterans welcome sharing of knowledge and wisdom by Veterans for the benefit of Community at large. Pharma Veterans Blog is published by Asrar Qureshi on WordPress, the top blog site. Please email to for publishing your contributions here.

Major portion of this post is based on McKinsey survey report. (link at the end)
McKinsey published the findings of a global survey about Middle Managers in March 2023. It is quite a revealing report. It starts with these lines. [quote] Middle Management is a vital yet beleaguered role within organizations. Managers face pressures from above and below, they tend to be both underdeveloped and unempowered, they face growing pressure to deliver in flatter, faster, and leaner organizational structures, all of which leads to being underutilized and unappreciated. [unquote] The description is complete representation of what is happening in the organizations.

Who are the middle managers? As a general rule, all managers who do not have the power to take significant decisions independently are middle managers.  If we go back fifty years, the corporates had a centralized structure with one person taking decisions and others down the line following. With the wave of decentralization, more layers of hierarchy were created, to the extent that it reached ludicrous levels in larger organizations. In countries like ours, layers were added to accommodate more people backed by influential people, with blatant disregard for merit. The wave had its day and now more centralization is again being favored and practiced. This has left many layers in the middle with little power and authority. For example, in pharma industry, the national sales manager was the top leader, to whom area managers were reporting. Now the NSM may have marketing manager/ director marketing above him, and regional managers/zonal managers/area managers below him; the NSM is now a middle manager.

Grievance #1. Middle managers spend nearly half their time on non-managerial work

Managerial work is strategy-focused work, and it involves talent and people management. Non-managerial work is administrative tasks and activities done alone. The surveyed managers reported that they spent nearly half of the working time on non-managerial tasks. Even if a manager can generate more sales individually, it is not his real job, which is to create value through team development and talent management and making strategies for better outcomes. The paradox is that the management also values strategy-focused work and talent management but is not giving enough time to middle managers to do these. The result is that both parties have something to complain about; one about performance, the other about not getting opportunity to perform. A further irony would be when their performance would be appraised on managerial work. There appears to be a lack of clarity in the organizations about what manager should be doing with their time.

Grievance #2. Middle managers face multiple obstacles

Middle managers are facing a whole lot of complications, the most often reported is organizational bureaucracy. It includes excessive meetings, too many emails, complicated approval processes, multilayer performance appraisal system, and lack of personal touch. The managers cannot keep their teams motivated, cannot keep their customers happy because everything takes too much time. Funny thing is that the customer moves on to the competitor and the junior employee moves to some other organization. The manager finds himself incapable of managing people which is his primary responsibility. This keeps the managers agitated and demotivated, ultimately affecting the performance.

Grievance #3. Middle managers are sandwiched

Their teams and their bosses, both put relentless pressure on them. The junior employees are bold as they can easily find alternative jobs, while seniors wield the power of hiring and firing, and they do not get hurt directly due to departure of junior team members. In these turbulent times, the frontline workers such as medical reps demand more money and facilities which the management usually does not agree with. This fact coupled with the pressure to increase business steeply and constantly, puts them in a tight corner resulting in high turnover. The average turnover in pharma industry is 25-30%, with high of 50% in some organizations. It means that in one year two third to half the team is replaced. If the recruitment and training costs are calculated, it is causing huge loss to organizations. Middle managers cannot leave quickly because opportunities for them are much less, and the situation is the same everywhere, therefore, the logic of changing is not very sound. In this scenario, the managers are under pressure to contribute more personally, which reduces the team development even further.

Grievance #4. Middle managers are not rewarded in ways they want to be rewarded

It is an interesting grievance because it is there even when they are rewarded. 30% respondents in this survey wanted to be rewarded for their good work with increased autonomy, for example, decision making authority. 29% wanted reward in the form of increased responsibility, such as stretch assignments, broadened scope of role etc. Bonuses, increments, and promotions came after these two. A healthy 22% wanted to get more learning opportunities, while 18% preferred public appreciation for achievement.

Most organizations do not consider a broad array of incentives to reward performance. Whenever incentive is mentioned, it is automatically linked to financial rewards. There is a clear thinking among management that one-time financial reward is most suitable for the organization, disregarding whether it will motivate the employee in the desired way or not.

Potential benefits of utilizing middle managers effectively

When middle managers are utilized effectively, organizations can reap a range of benefits, including increased productivity, improved efficiency, and higher employee engagement and retention. By providing middle managers with the necessary support and resources to execute the organization’s strategy, organizations can see a significant improvement in their performance.

Effective middle managers can also help to foster a positive workplace culture, promoting collaboration and communication among team members and creating a sense of shared purpose. This can lead to higher levels of employee engagement and retention, with employees feeling more connected to the organization and its goals.

Strategies for unlocking the potential of middle managers

Training & Development – One of the most effective ways to unlock the potential of middle managers is to provide them with the necessary training and development opportunities. This can include leadership training, coaching, and mentoring programs, as well as opportunities for professional development and upskilling. By investing in the development of middle managers, organizations can equip them with the skills and knowledge they need to become effective leaders and drive growth and innovation.

Empowerment – Another key strategy for unlocking the potential of middle managers is to empower them with decision-making authority. This can include delegating decision-making responsibilities to middle managers, giving them greater autonomy and control over their teams’ activities. By providing middle managers with decision-making authority, organizations can enable them to take ownership of their teams’ performance and drive results.

Encouraging Collaboration and Communication – Effective collaboration and communication are critical for unlocking the potential of middle managers. By providing opportunities for middle managers to collaborate and share ideas, organizations can foster a culture of innovation and creativity. This can lead to higher levels of employee engagement and retention, as employees feel more connected to the organization and its goals.


By investing in the development of middle managers, empowering them with decision-making authority, encouraging collaboration and communication, and recognizing and rewarding their contributions, organizations can unleash the power of this critical group of leaders and drive growth and innovation. The future of middle management is bright, and its impact on organizations is significant. By unlocking the potential of underutilized middle managers, organizations can achieve greater success and create a more positive and productive workplace culture.


Disclaimer: Most pictures in these blogs are taken from Google Images and Pexels. Credit is given where known; some do not show copyright ownership. However, if a claim is lodged at any stage, we shall either mention the ownership clearly, or remove the picture with suitable regrets.


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