|[December 04, 2012]
Good Middle Managers Add to Workplace Productivity, According to Research at Stanford Business School
STANFORD, Calif. --(Business Wire)--
Middle managers don't get lots of respect in the workplace. And for a
variety of reasons, scholars have mostly studied the worth of CEOs and
the efficacy of various management practices. But a new study suggests
that front-line supervisors are far more important than many have
In fact, replacing a poorly performing boss with a top-notch middle
manager is roughly equivalent to adding one more worker to a nine-member
team, the study concludes. "These bosses do matter, and they earn their
pay," says Kathryn
Shaw of Stanford's
Graduate School of Business, and a coauthor, along with Stanford
Lazear and the University of Utah's Christopher
Stanton, of a working paper called "The
Value of Bosses."
To determine this, the authors looked at workers in technology-based
service jobs where computers measure their output every hour. Daily
output was measured for 23,878 workers matched to 1,940 bosses over 5
years from 2006 to 2010, resulting in nearly 6 million measurements.
Although the specific employer and jobs studied are not named in the
study, the authors say the employees held computer-based jobs not unlike
those of many retail sales clerks, movie theater concession stand
employees, in-house IT specialists, airline gate agents, and call center
On average, each employee changed supervisors four times a year, which
made it easier to isolate the quality of different managers. Generally,
the work was performed by teams of nine employees and one supervisor.
Managers were ranked by the changes in productivity that occurred when
they were added or removed from a team and by changes in productivity of
workers who moved from one boss to another. Assigning a tenth worker to
the team raised productivity about 11%, while replacing a low-performing
boss with a high-performing boss raised productivity by 12%.
According to the study, the average boss adds about 1.75 times as much
output as the average worker, which is in line with the differences in
pay received by the two types of employees.
So what does a good boss do better than a poor one In a word, teach.
Teaching work skills or work habits accounts for two-thirds of the gain
that bosses added. That might suggest that the best bosses should be
matched with poorly performing employees. However, the effect of good
bosses on high-quality workers is greater than the effect of good bosses
on lower-quality workers, but the difference isn't great, the
Although the study looked at only one workplace in detail, its findings
are applicable to a growing swath of the economy. Large numbers of
workers now perform tasks that can be measured by computer. Lazear says
the workers they studied are "like the manufacturing workers of the
'50s" in the sense that they are performing regimented, relatively
low-skilled tasks. "It's not likely that this firm is unusual."
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