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The Irrelevance of Middle Management?

The defining element that distinguishes simple data from information is the timeless human component - insight.

By Lynda Gratton 17 January 2011

My HBR article on the End of Middle Management this month continues to bring in a postbag of interesting views. 
LyndaGrattonHere is Noah Barsky and Anthony Catanachfrom Villanova School of Business in Pennsylvania, USA. Their interest is particularly in the impact that technology itself has on the management of projects and the redefinition of the role of routine management.

In their view, to become “future-proofed” managers must first commit to a mindset that recognizes the subtle, but important, difference between data and information. Data are exponentially abundant and often available at little or no cost. Followers of my blog will recall my observation of my youngest son’s creation of an essay about bird flu from Wikipedia with very little by way of understanding of the actual phenomena (hey, I’m not being harsh on him – the kid is only 16!) The ever-advancing developments in technology are designed to manage these data. Their view is that there is a strong message to managers when instantaneous, complete, customized analyses are downloadable at little or no cost from the Internet or company databases. In this case the market assigns a value of zero to such data. However, whilst the market assigns a value of zero to Internet based analyses, information commands a price premium, as most managers readily recognize this as the key ingredient in successful decision-making.

The defining element that distinguishes simple data from information is the timeless human component - insight. Insight is human intervention: the integration of a person’s analytical abilities, technical competency, experience, and intuition that interprets and transforms data into something far more valuable: information.

Downsizings and restructurings provide strong evidence that data-oriented and routine task management jobs continue to be replaced by technology. However, the market needs managers that can make something of the abundant data warehoused and processed by technology; who can create information to guide decision-making. They finish their letter with this… ‘Professor Grattoncould not be more correct - managers who simply create or process data face a terrible fate: irrelevance.’

So – to ensure that you do not face the end of management you need both the soft skills of coaching and mentoring, and the hard skills of being able to convert data to information through the knowledge and insight you bring.

What else do you think will save managers from irrelevance in the future?

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