Friday, December 2, 2011

The plight of the clay layer

"When I go to Heaven, I'll Spank God's Ass"
by alphadesigner
Let's face it, new hires want everything.

Senior management, perpetually seeking out the best and the brightest, hopes to give these new hires everything they desire but are often too busy with the work to bring the change to the bowels of the organization, leaving the mission to those in the middle.

While I still believe that middle management may be in the best position to foster innovation, I've also come to realize that they are often rendered ineffective by the very nature of being responsible for satisfying increasingly complex demands from both above and below them.

In essence, I think that middle management is unfairly expected to operationalize culture while simultaneously accomplishing mission.  This already uneasy task is made more difficult by the fact that often their contributions go unnoticed, and their resources eroded.  On top of it all, we cast them as the problem. We call them the clay layer. We question their motives, their authenticity.

But to be sure I doubt their impermeability is all that purposeful or sinister.

To be fair, the system is simply not designed to deliver what we are now asking of it. Look at how radically technology and the nature of work has shifted in the last 50 years - why haven't our organizational models kept pace?

The grim reality is that sometimes the system can be so broken (or perhaps more rightly, outdated) that it muddies even the clearest of waters (and perhaps reputations).

Most people I have met in the middle are simply ill-equipped to do all that is asked of them. I doubt it's a fun position to be in, and to be fair I'm not sure what (if anything) we are doing to support those being crunched in the middle.

I personally know many people in the middle who have taken on (read: have thrust upon them) more than any single person could (or should) handle; and this only exacerbates the problem.

This is the plight of the clay layer, and I for one, think we ought to take the time to recognize it.

Originally published by Nick Charney at
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