THE STRATEGIC ROLES OF MIDDLE MANAGERS

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CHAPTER 3 THE MIDDLE MANAGEMENT PERSPECTIVE

INTRODUCTION

“… the conception that top managers formulate strategy while middle managers carry it out is not only unrealistic, it is also self-defeating” (Floyd & Wooldridge, 1994:47)
As described in Chapter 2, within the strategy-as-practice perspective, the focus cannot solely be on senior executives, but consideration should be expanded to the middle manager and non-managerial personnel. In the previous chapter, it was indicated that the current research investigated what the individual practitioner does and how this doing shaped micro- and meso-praxis. Specifically, this research considered middle managers and their strategising practices. Previous research has indicated that organisational performance is heavily influenced by what happens in the middle of the organisation, rather than at the top (Currie & Procter, 2005:1325). This implies that actions in organisations at middle management level influence not only how the strategy is practiced, but also how it impacts on the performance of the organisation.
Chapters 1 and 2 indicated that this current research was concerned with middle managers in action and observed how they practiced strategy through daily experiences within a university context. Chapter 3 reviews the existing literature on middle managers, specifically their strategic roles and strategising practices and how middle managers engage with the material aspects, such as the talk, text and tools, of strategy work.
As a management process, strategic management essentially involves many activities to ensure successful strategy-making (strategising) and execution. In the past, the role allocation of these fundamental activities has led to many debates with various conflicting views being expressed. One of these debates pertains to the management levels in organisations presenting conflicting views about who is responsible for these strategising activities. Traditionally, the focus of strategy 86 research has been on those in the upper echelons of organisations. Literature still considers, to a large extent, strategy as a top-down process of formulation separated from implementation, predisposing a focus upon top managers, their demographics and their decision-making processes (Karger et al., 1975; Hambrick & Mason, 1984; Wiersema & Bantel, 1992; Van de Ven, 1992; Papadakis et al., 1998; Carpenter, 2002; Hambrick, 2007; Lyles & Schwenk, 2007). Floyd and Wooldridge (1994:48) are considered to be some of the first scholars to warn against looking at middle managers only from an operational viewpoint. According to them, when top management looks at middle managers from only an operational viewpoint, they fail to make distinctions about the variety of contributions made by middle managers and, in particular, overlook the possibility that middle managers play strategic roles. This view was later supported by Thomas and Linstead (2002:72) who explain that the role of middle management has not so much expired as it has been transformed. Considering the contemporary organisational structure, middle management is now much closer to the strategic apex in the flattened, delayered organisation. Consequently, the new model of the middle manager is one that has a more strategic focus and is more concerned with making strategic decisions impacting the strategic direction of the organisation, than the traditional model of the middle manager.
In line with the strategy-as-practice perspective, strategists consist of a much wider group of actors – managers at multiple levels of the organisation as well as influential external actors, such as consultants, analysts and regulators. Increasingly, strategy-as-practice studies indicate the importance of middle managers and lower-level employees as strategic actors. By identifying middle managers as strategists, the research agenda expands beyond top managers.
The body of research on middle managers is inspired by Floyd and Wooldridge’s work (Floyd & Wooldridge, 1992; Floyd and Wooldridge, 1994; Floyd and Wooldridge, 1996; Floyd and Lane, 2000; Floyd and Wooldridge, 2000; Floyd & Wooldridge, 2003; Wooldridge et al., 2008). In addition to these authors, the work by Huy (2001; 2002, 2011), Carney (2003), Balogun and Johnson (2004), Mantere (2008) and Nordqvist and Melin (2008) contributes significantly to the body of knowledge on middle managers. From a conceptual perspective, some studies on middle managers within the higher education sector have been done, such as those by Slaughter and Leslie (1997), Smith (2002), Rowley and Sherman (2003), Deem (2004), Parker (2004), Wolverton, Ackerman and Holt (2005) and Floyd (2012). A review of the contributions of these authors will be provided in Chapter 4.
The aim of this chapter is to provide a comprehensive review of the existing knowledge base on middle managers as strategy practitioners. It provides an explanation of the foundations of the middle manager perspective and offers an integrated overview of previous research on middle managers. The chapter also includes a description of the practices of middle managers. Figure 7 diagrammatically depicts the structure of this chapter in relation to the thesis.

THE MIDDLE MANAGEMENT PERSPECTIVE

Academic literature in strategic management has predominantly focused on the actions and decisions of top managers. To a large degree, other managers have been seen as administrators or implementers (often termed “executors”): organising, directing and controlling predetermined plans. Floyd and Wooldridge (1994:48) refer to the “misunderstood middle manager”, as the middle manager has always been associated with the organisation’s control system. This description has applied for decades, and in the language of strategic management, the middle manager role has been defined as that of an implementer. However, by accepting that strategic management is about explaining differences among organisations and helping managers create economic value (Floyd & Wooldridge, 2000:xi), it then needs to be acknowledged that strategic management is not merely formulation and implementation but also a culmination of various processes and inputs involving many stakeholders. According to Floyd and Wooldridge (2000:xiv), top managers are viewed as strategic architects and not as strategic decision-makers – they are designers and coordinators of a process and involve people at many levels to develop new capabilities.
In the late 1980s, Nonaka (1988) made the observation that strategic leadership occurs at all levels of the organisation. This view was later supported by Bartlett and Ghoshal (1993) who stated that strategising is being decentralised. A more substantive position for middle managers in the strategy process emerged in conjunction with a flatter and more entrepreneurial model of organisation that competes in knowledge-intensive environments (Wooldridge et al., 2008:1195). This new model and competitive business environment has contributed to changes in the roles and contributions of the different management levels in the organisation. Gratton (2011) acknowledges that, even though changes are needed to middle manager roles and competencies, it is not the end of the middle management position.
In describing the business environment, Floyd and Lane (2000:154) refer to the ever-tightening resource constraints that managers face as well as the blurring industry boundaries that increase the pressure to internalise new information. Furthermore, the nature of this environment complicates the strategic management process as top managers are not in a position to analyse and execute a carefully conceived strategy – often, the time and information to follow a comprehensive process are not available. As stated in Chapter 2, strategies often emerge and may be rationalised to mean something very different from what was originally intended. This emerging approach to strategy is often due to actions taken by middle managers within the organisation, and strategic initiatives may arise without the awareness of top managers. Emergent strategy enables management that cannot be close enough to a situation, or those who cannot know enough about the varied activities of its organisation, to surrender control to those who have the information current and detailed enough to shape realistic strategies. Whereas the more deliberate strategies tend to emphasise central direction and hierarchy, the more emergent ones open the way for collective action and convergent behaviour.

CHAPTER 1 RESEARCH ORIENTATION
1 INTRODUCTION
1.1 BACKGROUND
1.2 PROBLEM STATEMENT
1.3 RESEARCH PURPOSE
1.4 RESEARCH QUESTIONS
1.5 RESEARCH APPROACH
1.6 IMPORTANCE AND BENEFITS OF THIS STUDY
1.7 DELIMITATIONS AND ASSUMPTIONS
1.8 RESEARCH ETHICS
1.9 CHAPTER OUTLINE
1.10 LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
1.11 CHAPTER CONCLUSION
CHAPTER 2 THE STRATEGY-AS-PRACTICE PERSPECTIVE
2.1 INTRODUCTION
2.2 DEVELOPING A THEORY OF PRACTICE
2.3 STRATEGY-AS-PRACTICE: A THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK
2.4 STRATEGISING
2.5 CRITICISM AGAINST THE STRATEGY-AS-PRACTICE PERSPECTIVE
2.6 THE STRATEGY-AS-PRACTICE RESEARCH AGENDA
2.7 CONTRIBUTION OF THIS RESEARCH
2.8 CHAPTER CONCLUSION
CHAPTER 3 THE MIDDLE MANAGEMENT PERSPECTIVE
3.1 INTRODUCTION
3.2 THE MIDDLE MANAGEMENT PERSPECTIVE
3.3 INTEGRATED OVERVIEW OF THE LITERATURE ON THE MIDDLE MANAGEMENT PERSPECTIVE IN STRATEGY
3.4 THE STRATEGIC ROLES OF MIDDLE MANAGERS
3.5 ORGANISATIONAL COGNITION AND THE INVOLVEMENT OF MIDDLE MANAGERS IN STRATEGISING
3.6 MIDDLE MANAGER ACTIVITY AND ORGANISATIONAL OUTCOMES
3.7 MIDDLE MANAGER STRATEGIC SENSEMAKING
3.8 STRATEGISING PRACTICES OF MIDDLE MANAGERS
3.9 CHAPTER CONCLUSION
CHAPTER 4 ORGANISATIONAL CONTEXT
4.1 INTRODUCTION
4.2 THE CONTEMPORARY HIGHER EDUCATION ENVIRONMENT
4.3 CHARACTERISTICS OF THE UNIVERSITY MANAGEMENT ENVIRONMENT
4.4 PREVIOUS STRATEGY RESEARCH IN THE UNIVERSITY CONTEXT
4.5 THE SOUTH AFRICAN HIGHER EDUCATION LANDSCAPE
4.6 THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH AFRICA
4.7 CONTRIBUTION OF THIS RESEARCH
4.8 CHAPTER CONCLUSION
CHAPTER 5 RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
5.1 INTRODUCTION
5.2 RESEARCH SCOPE
5.3 PARTICIPANT SELECTION
5.4 DATA PRODUCTION
5.5 DATA ANALYSIS
5.6 LIMITATIONS AND STRENGTHS OF THE RESEARCH DESIGN
5.7 QUALITY AND RIGOUR/RELIABILITY AND VALIDITY
5.8 RESEARCH ETHICS
5.9 CHAPTER CONCLUSION
ANNEXURE TO CHAPTER 5
CHAPTER 6 RESEARCH FINDINGS 
6.1 INTRODUCTION
6.2 SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM AND THEMATIC ANALYSIS
6.3 INTERPRETATION AND REPORTING
6.4 PARTICIPANTS
6.5 INSTITUTIONAL OPERATIONS
6.6 STRATEGIC ROLES OF MIDDLE MANAGERS
6.7 MATERIALITY OF STRATEGY WORK
6.8 THE STRATEGISING PRACTICES OF MIDDLE MANAGERS
6.9 ENABLERS AND CONSTRAINTS OF MIDDLE MANAGERS’ STRATEGY WORK
6.10 CHAPTER CONCLUSION
CHAPTER 7 INTERPRETATION, RESEARCH CONCLUSION AND RESEARCH CONTRIBUTION
7.1 INTRODUCTION
7.2 FINDINGS
7.3 STRATEGISING PRACTICES OF MIDDLE MANAGERS IN UNIVERSITY CONTEXT.
7.4 ROLES OF UNIVERSITY MIDDLE MANAGERS IN STRATEGISING
7.5 MIDDLE MANAGER’S ENGAGEMENT WITH THE MATERIALITY OF STRATEGY WORK
7.6 ENABLERS AND CONSTRAINTS ON UNIVERSITY MANAGERS STRATEGY WORK
7.7 LIMITATIONS
7.8 RESEARCH CONTRIBUTION AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH
7.9 RESEARCH CONCLUSION
7.10 REFERENCES
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EXPLORING THE STRATEGISING PRACTICES OF MIDDLE MANAGERS – A CASE STUDY AT A SOUTH AFRICAN UNIVERSITY

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