Middle Management

I found out today that I’ve become middle management. I’ve become my own arch-nemesis.

Critical Mass has (almost) finished its massive organizational effort. It’s not really a reorganization, per se, but it is a process that we’ve needed to go through for a very long time.

This year, Critical Mass turns eight years old. It’s been almost six years since the launch of our first website. I’m employee #175, and new people are in the #400 range. We’ve got a lot of people that need organziation to get through their daily lives. So with the introduction of Thelton, our new COO (well, “new” as of September), we dove into the melee of putting an actual structure into Critical Mass.

It’s akin to putting a skeleton into a Jell-o mold. Just as soon as you think you have something in one place, the whole mass deforms to one side. It’s an agonizingly slow process that has taken months to complete. But the Jell-o of old is finally being held in place!

Part-‘n-parcel with this change was defining positions for everyone, exactly where everyone fits in the Grand Scheme of Things, and (this is where the middle management bit comes in) who reports to whom. We refer to this as “Performance Management”.

When I originally heard about this, I had assumed that all I would be doing was mentoring others, helping them grow into new positions. I’ve done this before. I like it. And I can do it without too much difficulty. What I found out had me more than a little surprised. These people actually report to me. By the end of this year, I will be responsible for not only their performance evaluation, but also their salary review and the potential (if any) of a bonus.

I’m not sure who this frightens more: the people whom I manage, or me.

Going back a few years (between 9 and 11), I used to work for Digital Equipment of Canada, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Digital Equipment Corporation (also known as DEC). They were at the time the second-largest computer manufacturer in the world (mind, you far behind #1 — IBM), and already destined for failure due to their very late arrival on the personal computer scene.

Due to their massive size (95,000 worldwide when I started), DEC had a lot of middle managers. And with only a few exceptions, I disliked most of the ones I met. Self-absorbed empire-builders whose only goals were self-congratulation, self-inflation, and self-promotion. Heaven forbid you should ever consider stalling their progress through the company, or not bow to their every whim.

Well, maybe that’s being a little harsh. There were only a few I actually hated. Most I tolerated, once they understood that if they were talking to me, it was because they needed my help, and I controlled the situation. (Believe it or not, despite being a co-op student, I managed to wield enough power due to my support position to actually tell people off — politely, of course — and live to tell about it.)

Anyway, I learned to hate middle managers. Then, of course, is a reference in Douglas Adams’ “Restaurant at the End of the Universe” where the Golgafrincham society cast their useless people (including middle managers) off into space, where they crash-landed on Earth and became the basis of the human society. Doesn’t exactly help the self-esteem very much.

But for every dark cloud of foreboding doom, there is always sun shining behind it. (Except during an eclipse.) Mine is that I’ll finally have actual experience and training handling performance management, managing other staff, and handling things like salaries. It’s a skills increase, and makes me look more employable. At least I hope it does…

Lest I look like a Golgafrincham Jell-o mold.