Specialization of Middle Managers and Strategy Implementation
Dr. Shipeng YAN
HKU Business School
Strategy implementation requires competent middle managers, but few have examined their career experiences which shape such competence. We address this deficiency by extending research on career specialization and leveraging the implementation variations in the social distancing policy across Chinese municipal governments during the initial outbreak of COVID-19. We theorize and find that municipal government leaders with a generalist career background implement social distancing less strongly than specialist leaders and suffer less from citizens’ economic discontent. Compared to generalists, specialist leaders are more skillful in focusing and optimizing a given strategy, thus better at achieving the intended consequence of a strategy. In contrast, generalists are more skillful in reflective and holistic thinking, thus better at avoiding the unintended consequence of a strategy. As generalists and specialists differ in focusing on a strategy or reflecting on it, a prior experience in the central ministry of the government, which helps appreciate the intended consequence of social distancing – pandemic control, mitigates the implementation gap between generalists and specialists. A prior experience in the grassroot level of the government helps municipal leaders better understand the unintended consequence of social distancing – economic discontent and widens the implementation gap.