The redundancy of middle management seems to be a popular topic in business management literature these days. Similar to increased discussion around the dwindling middle class in today’s society, scholars and business leaders are beginning to more fully recognize the polarity between lower-level staff members and C-level senior managers.

Kaushik Bhattacharya’s recent University of Chicago master’s thesis got me thinking further on this interesting topic, particularly how management circles sometimes classify staff in three general levels: Grinders, Minders and Finders.

Three Roles, Simplified

Defining these roles (in a non-scientific way) would look something like this:

  • Grinders: Junior staff start out as “Grinders,” the team members pressed into 12- or 16-hour days when a firm undersells a project amid concerns about low utilization or some other factor results in unexpected circumstances. If Grinders disagree to the terms, Minders tell them there are 10 other staff members ready to replace them. No surprise, this group usually has the highest turnover and comes to be turned off by the consulting profession.
  • Minders: This is middle management. They crack the whip on Grinders and shoulder the blame from Finders if projects come in over budget and late. There is an argument among some that Minders have a “meaningless” role because Finders could just as easily manage the Grinders in many organizations. Others would argue it is “thankless” because their core functions are not appropriately recognized or valued.
  • Finders: These are CEOs and partners in firms. They may be responsible for bringing in $5 million in sales and $7 million in utilization, for example, and will do whatever it takes to meet these goals. Once they do, any problems that may follow in a project’s execution belong to the Grinders and Finders. Finders receive 80% of profit share and earn the money off the backs of the two other groups. Grinders and Minders toil in their roles with hopes of one day earning this position, perhaps not recognizing that lifestyle and personality changes are required along with the title change. Grinders and Minders toil in their roles in the hopes of one day earning this position, but in reality are likely to retire in a Minder role before ever moving on to Finder.



The Roles Examined with More Nuance

Let’s look (again, non-scientifically) at the characteristics and incentives of each role as they are often perceived and positioned.


Role Purpose Characteristics Incentives
  • Perform the work
  • Early career
  • Gen Z, Millennials
  • Not aware of or not concerned with firm’s long-term strategy/tactical positioning
  • Expected to put in the time and effort mandated by Minders
  • Experience
  • Springboard to better-paying opportunity
  • Collaboration with other staff
  • Friendships
  • Professional network connections
  • Manage the Grinders
  • Serve the Finders
  • Gen X, Boomers
  • More likely to retire in Minder role than move to Finder
  • Follower, not a leader
  • Pleased with status quo
  • Enjoy managing junior staff
  • Accountable for Minder failures
  • Steady role
  • Few major decisions
  • Better job security due to lower financial risk to firms versus Finders
  • Power over Grinders
  • POTENTIAL seat at the Finder’s table
  • Find the work
  • CEOs, Partners
  • Entrepreneurs at heart
  • Generalists
  • Willing to relocate regularly
  • Self-generated confidence
  • Able to compartmentalize emotions
  • Fast-tracked through Grinder and Minder roles, if at all
  • Highly educated
  • Politically minded
  • Power
  • Money
  • Status
  • Material goods
  • Legacy
  • Personal brand


Clearly, this is still a simplified view and many would argue that the complexities of each can vary by industry, discipline and function. Middle managers may be taking beating in some circles of corporate commentary, but I find it hard to envision true success without this in-between layer shepherding Finders and Grinders from start to finish.

The hope is this framework illustrates professional roles in a way that can enlighten staff and foster change and empathy in how they are traditionally treated. Business leaders are urged to understand how all three roles contribute to an organization’s overall workplace culture.

Tim Powell is a Principal with Foodservice IP, a professional services firm aimed at delivering ideas for managers to guide informed business decisions.

To learn more about FSIP’s Management Consulting Practice, click here.

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