Middle Managers Must Play Game Of Risk - InformationWeek
IT Leadership // Team Building & Staffing
01:57 PM
Venkatesh Rao
Venkatesh Rao
Connect Directly

Middle Managers Must Play Game Of Risk

Line managers must now be required, and enabled via enterprise management 2.0 tools, to take on market risks.

The Risk-Taking Manager

What does the manager need to take on a meaningful role in risk management? How do Enterprise 2.0 tools play into this redefined role?

The missing piece is the ability to gamble. E2.0 tools provide the information advantage required for gambling at layers that traditionally didn't manage external risk. But this information advantage is meaningless if it's not accompanied by resources with which to gamble.

Line managers today are either P/L managers or cost center managers. Neither truly manages much market risk.

The first kind of manager is expected to hit targets within strategies thrust on them top-down. They're expected to hit those targets with one hand tied behind their backs on the marketing and innovation fronts.

The second kind of manager lacks even that minimum amount of control over revenue streams. He or she must service "internal" customers through murky "cost recovery" accounting for services billed at rates that have no relation to market rates. The accounting is a joke. It's more about balancing the books in nominal ways than representing financial realities in ways that help manage the business.

How do we change this ridiculous picture?

The Gambler-Manager, 2.0 Style

The basic mechanism for creating more autonomous, risk-managing managers is to devolve authority over the two basic Druckerian management functions ("the business enterprise has two--and only two--basic functions: marketing and innovation") down to the lowest possible level: people who manage small workgroups of individual contributors.

This means taking a sledgehammer to centralized corporate marketing and R&D models, except in the very rare cases that very large amounts of capital, in the form of technological and marketing muscle, must be assembled in one place and time.

This idea is generally anathema to large corporations, but once you understand the CEO "leadership" job that I wrote about last time, you realize why marketing and innovation are centralized today.

On the marketing front, the need for centralized management of a corporate brand is vastly overstated: It's primarily needed for Wall Street perception management, not for creation of demand (the textbook purpose of marketing).

On the innovation front, large, centralized R&D centers are more about creating poster-child advances to help CEOs manage expectations of future growth. In practice, most of these vanity projects fail to even reach the marketplace, let alone create new markets. Fortunately, they absorb a small fraction of the innovation budget. The rest of the budget is devoted to minor enhancements of existing products and reinforcing engineering firefighting.

In effect you have a centralized innovation and marketing circus designed to provide a background to the CEO's antics on the stage of the perception management theater. In the leadership theater, the CMO is the art director; the innovation CTO is the special effects maven.

No wonder line managers charged with actually growing revenue and profit are starved of autonomy and resources.

This needs to change.

The New Middle

When you put all of these ideas together, the new middle manager starts to look like an angel investor or micro-VC inside the corporation, with sufficient liquid resources, innovation potential, and marketing autonomy to maneuver in the marketplace.

The mantra of "innovation everywhere" by itself is meaningless. It needs to be upgraded to "business everywhere." The Druckerian yin-yang of marketing and innovation needs to be the recursive, fractal DNA of the entire organization, right down to the individual contributor.

To inform this organic, enterprise-wide maneuvering, you need information, which is where Enterprise 2.0 tools come in. We've talked enough about the tools (inbound social media analytics, blogging, word of mouth, crowdsourced innovation, early-beta processes) over the last three years that a word to the wise should be sufficient.

In this vision, middle managers, far from being dispensable, are critical. They're the ones who pull the entire organization together into a sort of negotiated, agile, systemically risk-managed and dynamically stable vortex that is Enterprise 2.0. Take them out of the equation and you get a lovefest between self-absorbed individuals and celebrity "tribal leaders"--something that looks more like a music festival than a business.

Middle managers everywhere, welcome to 2.0. You have a part to play. You're not obsolete.

The Enterprise 2.0 Conference brings together industry thought leaders to explore the latest innovations in enterprise social software, analytics, and big data tools and technologies. Learn how your business can harness these tools to improve internal business processes and create operational efficiencies. It happens in Boston, June 18-21. Register today!

2 of 2
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Deb Donston-Miller
Deb Donston-Miller,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/5/2012 | 10:05:29 AM
re: Middle Managers Must Play Game Of Risk
Great article! Are you saying that Enterprise 2.0 tools enable this layer of middle management to develop into this sort of "angel investor" role once they have been granted that power, or that savvy use of Enterprise 2.0 tools by middle management is what is enabling this new role in the first place?

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard
User Rank: Apprentice
5/31/2012 | 4:55:33 AM
re: Middle Managers Must Play Game Of Risk
Refreshing take on middle management with a brilliant synthesis of trends. I am not so optimistic of the hopeful-sounding outlook playing out soon, especially in the context of where we are after the 2008 debacle in terms of lessons learnt and fundamental changes brought in.
How Enterprises Are Attacking the IT Security Enterprise
How Enterprises Are Attacking the IT Security Enterprise
To learn more about what organizations are doing to tackle attacks and threats we surveyed a group of 300 IT and infosec professionals to find out what their biggest IT security challenges are and what they're doing to defend against today's threats. Download the report to see what they're saying.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
2017 State of the Cloud Report
As the use of public cloud becomes a given, IT leaders must navigate the transition and advocate for management tools or architectures that allow them to realize the benefits they seek. Download this report to explore the issues and how to best leverage the cloud moving forward.
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
Join us for a roundup of the top stories on InformationWeek.com for the week of November 6, 2016. We'll be talking with the InformationWeek.com editors and correspondents who brought you the top stories of the week to get the "story behind the story."
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.
Flash Poll