“The flattening”: the technology sector calls for time for middle managers

It’s a phenomenon that’s come to be known as “flattening”: Tech companies that hired middle managers in droves during the pandemic boom are now shedding the layer as they make massive layoffs.

In particular, Meta follows the trend of Elon Musk, who eliminated many middle management roles when he bought Twitter last October for $44 billion.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, said the company is “flattening our organizational structure and removing layers of middle management to make faster decisions.”

But in the tech sector, what some workers see as a vital bridge between company bosses and co-workers, while others deride it as the height of bureaucratic mediocrity, is under threat. According to the layoffs.fyi database, technology companies that have made more than 170,000 layoffs this year have focused on their roles to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

Francesco Barosi, global head of the technology, media and telecommunications practice at consulting firm AlixPartners, said that as the pandemic boosted revenues from online platforms, companies faced fierce competition to hire and began offering more middle management positions and faster promotion.

This “title slip” – as he described it – resulted in an increase in the number of young middle managers who reported directly to two or three people – where previously there were fewer, each with seven or eight positions. “During Covid, middle managers became more coaches and had a much smaller scope,” Barosi said.

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A middle manager at Meta agreed that the title was seen by some employees at Big Tech companies as a “professional credential” that could help them move up to a higher position at a start-up, for example.

“When you leave here, everyone thinks you go and get things done [elsewhere]said the person. “It created a lot of people who wanted to be managers.”

But the ever-increasing “middle” led to inefficiency and protracted decision-making in some companies, more employees had a say, while it was difficult for them to communicate with each other, said Barosi. “Highly fragmented organizations create uncertainty and delay between opportunity, decision, and action.”

This inefficiency became particularly evident during the epidemic after the transition to remote work. Another Meta employee said that middle managers who work from home are eager to demonstrate to managers that they are still valuable, so they attend as many virtual meetings as possible to increase their own internal visibility.

As a result, “we had too many people on too many calls,” the person said, describing the phenomenon as a type of “digital presenteeism.”

On Blind, a forum for tech workers where they can post anonymously, a Meta employee wrote that the tech sector has become too bureaucratic, a far cry from the company’s early “move fast and break things” mantra: “We’ve got this bed for ourselves we made it. . It became what we mocked the old corporations for.”

The person added: “Too many people think their job is to design processes, enforce them, build empires, set up checkpoints, write documents, fight over which projects they get, review other people’s work, and not enough upside-down activity. . . work.”

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One industry insider echoed those sentiments, arguing that Silicon Valley has increasingly promoted “chiefs of staff” for everyone, much like bureaucratic government agencies, offering jobs only to create jobs for people to manage.

The person suggested that career progression should be decoupled from the number of people managed by employees. A manager’s role should be to deliver high performance as a leader, not supplement their day-to-day work as part of a promotion, they said.

Still, some argued it was too early to call time on the middle management role.

The position is “being reworked” but “will have ramifications that we haven’t thought of yet,” said Christy Pruitt-Haynes, global head of talent and performance at the human resources consulting firm NeuroLeadership Institute.

The role of middle managers was to “put the concerns of the many into the ears of the few,” he said, meaning that managers could now lose important links to the rest of their organizations.

Such shocks also “send a message to the address [workers] that “we have nowhere to grow”, he added, which means the company may lose talented employees prematurely and suffer from a lack of knowledge.

As a result, in the longer term, “we’ll have to bring back some positions,” he predicted.

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“Organizations really need to define what skills [they are] loser how [they] authorize and replace with the right people. . . Is this real savings or efficiency in the long run?” Pruitt-Haynes said.

But some employees, while disappointed by the layoffs, hope the overhaul will pave the way for a return to rapid innovation at companies like Meta and Twitter.

“In any case, I think it’s easier to remove middle management to save costs [and] younger, cheaper, hungrier, more malleable [talent] he’s less likely to find work elsewhere, so he’s more dedicated,” said one former Twitter employee, pointing to Musk’s decision to make the workforce “loyal” with many direct reports.

Further disruption is likely in the short term. According to a former Twitter employee, Musk’s brutal attitude “destabilized” the company.

Another Meta worker said, “Nothing is clear to anyone,” adding that their manager’s workload has increased since the layoffs.

The changes are unlikely to affect everyone equally. According to Meta’s middle manager, Meta managers who have larger teams with direct reports and reports are likely to find their jobs more stressful if these roles are brought under them alone.

But for those with smaller teams, it could be a positive opportunity for a manager to work more directly with junior staff, the person added.

Meanwhile, the industry insider said many were still scrambling to be part of the decision-making process to try to appear relevant, knowing more layoffs were coming.

Source: https://www.ft.com/content/21ccfe54-88f2-4360-a67e-d3fe1e7df1e5