Managers With Nothing to Lose

Are companies laying off the wrong people when they downsize? In recent years many firms have tried to stay competitive through two tactics: firing middle managers and dramatically rethinking how their company operates. But a study by Gretchen Spreitzer, Ph.D., of the University If South Carolina, suggests that the managers who are most likely to restructure their companies are those who haven't been promoted lately. "This is the very group of people that organizations let go first when they are downsizing," says Spreitzer.

Together with Robert Quinn, Ph.D., professor of organizational behavior at the University of Michigan, Spreitzer studied 191 middle managers who were entering Ford Motor Company's Leadership Education and Development program, which was designed to encourage employees to devise bold new ways to run the company's daily operations. Spreitzer figured that Ford's star supervisors would dutifully embrace the company's call for change and reorganize their departments. But, in fact, it was the workers whose careers had stalled who were most likely to attempt the dramatic changes Ford wanted.

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Puzzled, Spreitzer and Quinn looked for an explanation from the second-string managers themselves. "They told us, 'We're not going to get promoted anyway, so we might as well do what we think is right,'" reports Spreitzer. And the high-achieving managers? Perhaps because they'd benefited most from the status quo, they were more reluctant to rock the boat by altering the corporate structure.

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