11.21.2006

Translation Services

Organizational design folks often talk about leadership, management,
and administration. Leaders are the ones who set the direction for an
organization, and serve as the public face in communicating that
vision both internally and externally. Administrators are the ones
who actually do the work, and thus their job is all about production
and execution.

And managers? Having been in middle management for most of my adult
life, this is the perspective I'm most familiar with. And the more I
think about it, the more I realize that while managers have a myriad
of roles and responsibilities, they all fall under one heading:
translation.

Consider first that the vision a leader casts for his or her
organization must be translated into discrete programs and actions.
Administrators might have some input on how those programs and actions
can be best run, but it's the managers that translate fuzzy visions
into tangible deeds.

Second, as the public face of the organization, the leader accepts all
the glory and all the blame. But before and after the glowing or not
so glowing front page story, individuals and teams must be held
accountable. It's the manager that translates general principles into
specific accountability mechanisms, so that even as the leader is
getting toasted or roasted, the responsible individuals and teams are
also receiving their rewards or punishments.

Third, managers translate upward, from administration to leadership.
Broadly speaking, administrators need to know they have access to
their leaders' ears, and thus that their managers will go to bat for
them, whether it be a grievance or a request. Managers also need to
filter up trends and ideas that are percolating at the line level, so
that their leaders have enough dots to connect to be informed about
what's going on and what decisions need to be made.

That's a lot of translating to do! Not surprisingly, middle
management can be a lonely experience. Leaders buddy up to other
leaders, and administrators usually enjoy a high sense of identity and
camaraderie amongst themselves. But managers are often caught in the
middle, having a line to everyone and the understanding of no one.
Work satisfaction notwithstanding, managers have to figure out how to
keep on doing that translating, no matter how isolating it feels, in
order for their organizations to be successful. Let's hope our
managers are getting the technical training and the emotional support
to do just that.

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