Creative Leadership

The Future is Not About Being a Middle Man

One of the big changes happening in the world of work is the disappearing “Middle Man.” When a business starts, hiring is focused on two places – manufacturing and sales. In other words, the two most critical positions are the person who makes the widget, and the person who sells it. But as a company grows, middle level managers are hired to manage the salesforce and the widget makers. And the truth is, for a past generation, the role of “middle managers” was a reliable job for a variety of companies and organizations. But today, things are dramatically changing.

Due to a host of reasons including the last recession, corporate downsizing, outsourcing, and the growth of computer applications, the middle is being squeezed out. For example, after Kathleen and I founded Cooke Media Group, our first official employee was Brad Knull. At the time he was a producer and production manager for many of our projects. But when he and his wife Cindy’s daughters were born, they decided to move back to Ohio to be closer to their family, where Brad took a position with one the largest corporate media production houses in the country. Before long he rose to being the company’s head of production.

But Brad is very perceptive, so it wasn’t long before he realized that in the near future, middle men would start disappearing. And that’s when he bought his own video camera and starting shooting projects himself. Within a few years, he launched into a new career as a Director and Director of Photography, and that’s when his career exploded. Since that time, and just as he predicted, his former company has indeed reorganized, and eliminated those middle management positions.

But Brad is busier than ever.

We’ve been working together ever since, and Brad and I had this conversation a few years ago when we were filming in Cuba for the Museum of the Bible. We were discussing the fact that Cooke Media Group is celebrating our 28th anniversary in business, and one of the reasons is that from a staffing perspective, we’ve stayed lean and mean. We’re not interested in anyone who “manages the managers,” but in people who can either bring clients to the table, or create the actual projects.

Think about that with your own career.  In the last two years, I’ve received an increasing number of emails from desperate people who have been laid off from jobs as middle level managers or similar positions in production companies, studios, and other industries as well. None were ready for the change, and all were caught off guard.

The lesson?  You need to be critical to the process. Make sure you’re either bringing clients, customers, or funding to the table, or you’re directly involved in creating the product. My friend Seth Godin calls it being a “Lynchpin.” The world of business – and nonprofits as well – are changing, and the people who survive are the people the organization can’t live without.

Are you one of those people?

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7 Comments

  1. Hey Phil,

    Thanks for sharing this. Before getting into real estate I worked at ABC for three years in the mid-1980s. Even then they were getting rid of the middleman. When I started in primetime programming, we had 23 people in it. When I left we were down to seven. Manager of comedy, manager of drama, advance program advisory coordinator of Drama and APA coordinator of Comedy gone. Program execs were not replaced when someone left.

    I see it happening in the corporate office in real estate as well. I’m glad I’m a rainmaker and can bring something to the table.

  2. Hi Phil, Looks like beautiful Israel in the background. You said to let you know when we finally got going with the show… Well, we’re going and it’s quite a challenge after both of us worked in “real” radio for a combined 17+ years.
    Blog Talk Radio has so many flaws, but we’re using it since we don’t own a radio station. The point is, we got started and we won’t quit. But technically, it’s like going backward in time… Boy, I miss the real tools of broadcasting!

    All the best,
    Steve

    http://thinkaboutit.online

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