A Typology of Middle Manager Strategic Activity: An Exploration in an International Business Context

Donal O'Brien, Dublin Institute of Technology

Document Type Theses, Ph.D

Successfully submitted for the Award of Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) to the Dublin Institute of Technology, 2014.


There is a growing body of literature which recognises the strategic importance of middle managers (Westney, 1990, Kanter, 1982, Balogun, 2003, Balogun et al., 2011, Tippmann et al., 2013). Through enactment of strategic activities, middle managers influence how strategy develops in organisations (Aherne et al., 2014). Floyd and Wooldridge (1992) developed a model of upward and downward strategic activity which has been the basis for much of the research on middle managers. However, recent developments have highlighted the limitations in only researching upward and downward strategic activities (Rouleau and Balogun, 2011). Middle managers are engaged with interfaces above and below them, and also at the horizontal level both inside and outside the organisation. This research addresses this gap and platforming from the Floyd and Wooldridge (1992) model, develops a new typology incorporating the upward, downward and horizontal strategic activities of middle managers. The chosen context of this study is the subsidiary general manager level in multinational corporations (MNCs). The complex nature of the structures of the MNC is an exemplar case to examine strategic activities at the middle management level. Despite the growth in research on multinational subsidiaries, there is a lack of understanding of how strategy develops at the subsidiary manager level (Dörrenbächer and Geppert, 2006, Birkinshaw and Pedersen, 2009). This study addresses this issue by conceptualising the subsidiary general manager as an MNC middle manager. The new framework of middle manager strategic activity is applied to the subsidiary general manager of the MNC. Semi structured interviews with senior subsidiary managers refined the theoretical model and informed the survey instrument, which is the primary research tool in this study. The general managers of more than 1,200 Irish subsidiaries of foreign MNCs were surveyed, with a response rate of 16%. Exploratory factor analysis and multiple regression analysis are used to test the antecedents and outcomes of the middle manager’s strategic activity. Confirmation of the typology, and of the significance of individual manager’s skills and competences to subsidiary level outcomes, including learning, strategy creativity and initiatives, make important contributions to three streams of literature: the middle management strategy literature, the international business literature and the literature on the importance of individuals within the organisation.