Guest Post: Digital Transformation and the Key Role of Middle Managers

May 31, 2019
5 minute read

This is a guest post on how middle managers are crucial for digital transformation by Aniruddh Parmar of Software Suggest.

We are living in a digital era where all aspects of our lives have been touched, transformed, and leveraged by technology. This digitization of the world has forced businesses to change how they work. Not only has it introduced new roles in modern workplaces, but has also affected the brief of existing roles, especially middle managers.

Being a middle manager is a tough job. They act as the link between senior management and the employees on the ground. Whatever policies and strategies senior management might adopt have to be implemented by middle managers. From day-to-day decision-making and execution to resource utilization, it all falls on middle managers.

How exactly can middle managers help in digital transformation? And how do digital transformation endeavors affect the way middle managers operate?

This article will look at some answers.

Have constant and comprehensive communication with the team

69% of managers find it difficult to communicate with the team. The data is derived from a survey conducted by Interact.

Image Source: Interact Survey

It is not the CEO of the company who should know who is doing what. The team leader has this responsibility. To ensure this, a middle manager needs to have a unified communication platform where he/she can track task allotment, know who is doing what, get updates about the project completion, and make changes in the team as per the demands of the project.

Doing all this manually demands tons of efforts and a middle manager struggles hard to make it happen. However, digital transformation can bring great relief. The simple implementation of project management software and task management software can help the middle managers to stay connected with the teammates and take note of every action.

Project management software is not a single product but a suite of features that offers everything one may ever ask for unified communication. Whether it is task allotment or updating the team with any changes in the project requirements, project management software can do it all with a single click.

To work beyond boundaries

Out of all key business components, it is the middle management that has to be the most agile and vigil. Only 9% of the organizational issues are known to middle management.

Image source: InfoSurv

To resolve all these issues, your middle management has to work beyond the call of duty. This means leveraging tools and assets that go beyond the desktop and give managers control wherever and whenever they want.

Think of tools that tell managers who is doing what, how projects are doing, and how their teams are collaborating. These tools can help managers send notifications, import and export data, create reports, and access detailed analytics on the go.

Prioritize these "on-the-go" features in any software you choose. If it ties your managers to their desks, it really isn't letting your people work beyond their boundaries.

Design and implement business strategies

Your senior management makes business strategies and the middle management ensures the right and strategic implementation of all those strategies.

This has been the status quo in most organizations since the dawn of modern management.

But if your organization wants to take advantage of digital transformation, this status quo has to be changed. Middle managers shouldn't just be the executive arm of senior leaders. Rather, they should have a say in strategy and overall vision as well.

Modern cloud-based tools make this more viable than ever. Middle managers can use better communication tools to stay in touch directly with senior leaders. They can share detailed reports and data to sell their learnings. At the same time, they should be able to get leadership training to make the transition from "execution" to "strategy" easier.


Track work progress

The success of any business lies in its time-bound delivery. It not only saves time and money but is also useful for establishing the business' brand and niche in the market. Your middle management should ensure that each task has been allotted and distributed intelligently to meet the deadlines.

Image Source: HBR

The image clearly shows that most of the time managers are busy doing administrative tasks.

Digital transformation has helped middle management to track work progress easily. It helps them to get real-time task completion reports and automate various mundane tasks.


How Middle Managers Help in Digital Transformation (and How to Help Them)

Digital transformation is the need of the hour and companies need to leverage it to stay relevant. When we talk about the successful implementation of any new innovation within an organization, we should never overlook the role of middle management.

This study, published in Harvard Business Review, explains that the middle manager contributes in four major areas:

  • They are the key drivers to implement the proposed entrepreneurial ideas of top management.
  • Middle managers have a large informal network within the organization as compared to the top management. So, they are likely to encourage the ground-level staff to accept any organizational changes.
  • Middle managers are likely to maintain the balance between the top management and employees during any transformation.
  • Middle managers can ensure that the primary operations are taking place while the new transformation is taking place.

As we can clearly see that middle managers play a crucial role in the upright implementation of any new innovation. Thus, it is necessary that they should be the foundation of any digital transformation exercise as well.


The stumbling blocks

The success of any business in a digital era depends upon how quickly its middle managers is able to make peace with digital transformation. As they are a key component of any business, the onus of proper execution of this transformation falls on the shoulders of middle managers.

There are lots of stumbling blocks that middle managers face in this exercise:

The lack of proper assistance

Usually, digital transformation happens at multiple levels. It is not like flicking a switch. Rather, it is a complex process that needs strong understanding of every aspect of the business.

Often, companies, in a bid to compete with their leaner, more innovative competitors, rush to implement digital transformation policies without offering their executive arm - middle managers - adequate training. The result is predictable: poor strategy matched by poor execution leading to botched results from the transformation exercise.

Your top priority, thus, should be to ensure that middle management has enough training and assistance to succeed. Not only should they get formal training to implement all these digital changes, but they should also get a direct communication line with senior leadership for mentorship and support.

Implementation without knowing the actual capabilities

Competition in the business world is brutal enough to encourage some irrational choices. Some businesses adopt digital transformation without knowing its viability in their actual work environment. They usually end up working with tools that are either too complex for their business or too inadequate to handle their operations.

The remedy to this problem is simple:

  • Involve middle management in the software selection process since they often know the ground realities of the organization best
  • Get demos, trials, and partial implementation before committing the organization en masse to the tool

These two steps will help you understand the real viability of your chosen digital tools in your business environment.

Is it a boon or bane?

Digital transformation is a mixed bag with few difficulties and lots of help. The secret of reaping its benefits is proper implementation. Only a bunch of companies are able to achieve it.

Image source:

Unrealistic expectations and failure to deliver what was planned are some of the key reasons for the failure of digital transformation.

However, the right training and guidance can turn it into a boon. Companies should also make sure that digital transformation is happening as per the needs of the organization.

The main motto of digital transformation should be to empower your team and let them know their capabilities. Working closely with middle management to understand what the ground-level troops want, and not imposing a top-down choice is the right way to go.

Final Words

The digital revolution is upon us and isn't going away anytime soon. From your organizational structure to the businesses and people you sell to, it affects every aspect of your business.

Since you can't really escape it, it is important that you embrace it with the right attitude. Incorporating middle management in the entire digital transformation exercise, empowering them to make decisions, giving them the assistance and training they need, and involving them in strategic decision-making will make the entire endeavor more successful.

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