'Expendable' mid-managers are last defense for quality

Consider the plight of the pharma middle manager, as Paul Thomas does in Pharma Manufacturing. Some execs have largely put ops management under the control of the finance department, ever watchful for savings opportunities. Even worse, other execs have defaulted to finance and legal. "Finance wants to reduce services and people to commodities, and legal wants to impose additional restrictions because it's in the business of mitigating risks," according to the story.

Manufacturing takes perhaps the biggest hit. Middle managers must try to defend their resource requirements in the language of finance--where the purchasing overlords pursue preferred-vendor, lowest-price deals--rather than their native tongue of operations.

However, that pursuit is exactly what's led to some highly publicized recalls, including Johnson & Johnson/McNeil's Tylenol debacle. In exonerating high-level execs of any responsibility for the quality meltdown, a committee of the J&J board chose to under-bus middle managers. "Some McNeil employees may have lost focus and commitment to maintain quality standards," the report concludes.

After all, it's middle management's responsibility to translate, scale and execute corporate strategy across their function, regardless of the ops knowledge gaps of the strategy-makers. "Middle managers are really going to have to look out for themselves," says Scott Chizzo, president and chief consultant at Maxiom Group, in the article.

Some survival strategies from the article include making sure you connect with senior managers and execs regularly; talk strategic as well as tactical. Present options for solving issues; describe their strengths and weaknesses; come to agreement as to what is the best strategy. And don't brainstorm with execs or approach them with open-ended questions, lest you appear a deficient leader and uncreative in problem-solving.

- here's the story