Focus on Research

June 3, 2011 11:58 am

Something for the weekend

What determines the performance of knowledge-based companies? Strategy or management systems? Now research by a management professor at the Wharton school at the University of Pennsylvania has identified another contender - the middle manager.

Ethan Mollick, in his paper “People and process: suits and innovators: individuals and firm performance advises companies to pay close attention to their middle managers, who may well have a “greater impact on company performance than almost any other part of the organisation”.

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Focus on Research

In knowledge-based companies, such as computer games, software, consulting, biotech and marketing, variations in the abilities and influences of middle managers can be more significant and have more impact on a company’s performance than for example individuals who have innovative roles within the organisation.

Prof Mollick points out that middle managers have a key influence in project management, including tasks such as allocating resources and the supervision of deadlines. In other words, says Prof Mollick, “the often overlooked and sometimes maligned middle managers matter. They are not interchangeable parts in an organisation.”

His view overturns the traditional belief that performance differences between companies are due mainly to organisational factors - business strategy, management systems and HR practices - rather than differences between employees.

What makes an employee happy at work? It would appear that money has little to do with it. Moreover, bonuses and performance related pay make no difference to either employee satisfaction or to the amount of stress they feel while at work.

New research by academics in the UK has revealed that individuals who have a measure of variety and independence in their jobs find their work more satisfying and are also less stressed. Those employees who are “kept in the loop” by management and consulted ahead of potential changes also tend to be happier.

Stephen Wood, a professor of management at the University of Leicester says that enriched jobs - employment that includes variety and autonomy - appears to be vital to well-being at work.

The research, ‘High involvement management, high performance work systems and well-being’, also written by Lilian de Menezes, a professor of decision sciences at Cass Business School is published in the International Journal of Human Resource Management.

Prof Wood says the ways in which an employer designs a job can have a dramatic impact on an employee’s sense of happiness in the workplace.

“The current government’s desire to measure our well-being seems largely to have provoked public debates about whether money can make us happy. This research shows there are ways of treating people at work that can make them happier, which have little to do with money,” he adds.

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