Thankless and Precarious: The Plight of Pharma's "Managers-Once-Removed"

Middle managers in the life sciences are underappreciated and underrated in their significance, and yet they're often the first individuals to be blamed for operational issues or to be laid off during restructurings. These are indeed tough times for those whom Jane Chin, founder of the 9Pillars consultancy, calls "managers-once-removed." I recently conducted an email conversation with Chin, also author of "Practical Leadership for Biopharmaceutical Executives," about what challenges face pharma and biopharma middle managers, and what if anything they can do to overcome the challanges.

These professionals are in a thankless, precarious position, Chin says: "Middle managers often are messengers of senior executives' mandates and unfortunately aren't always given a complete set of information they need to answer questions from direct reports about the mandates." She adds that their subordinates "may assume that their managers know more than what is being communicated, which may or may not be the case. This puts middle managers in a precarious position of balancing expectations from the senior leadership team as well as from their subordinates and having to meet these expectations."

The regulatory environment in the life sciences only exacerbates these issues. "The mixed messages come from the poor scalability of these types of admonitions: 'Be careful! Don't get us in trouble!' and on the other hand, 'Be creative! We're in the business of innovation!' These warnings seem to fly in each others' faces, and as usual, it's up to middle managers to decipher what their executive leadership teams mean and then to scale this message appropriately to the subordinate-level and, then, execute on these."

It's unfortunate, Chin continues, as middle managers are essential to organizational success in the life sciences. They are the ones "who are translating and scaling corporate strategies across their individual functions, and then ensuring the appropriate execution and measurements of those strategies," she says. "You can look at troubled organizations and find strategies that have been 'lost in translation' as it percolates through this middle management layer."

For the full discussion with Jane Chin, read here. Also, the cover story of Pharmaceutical Manufacturing's July/August issue will look at the plight of pharma's middle managers, with interviews from consultants like Chin and middle managers themselves. We'll have that story in a few weeks in print and on

--Paul Thomas

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