Relationship evolution between the top and middle management in a strategic implementation process in the context of the COVID-19 crisis




Covid-19, Crisis, Strategy implementation, Middle managers, Top management.


Objective: The purpose of our study was to investigate how the relationship between top and middle management occurs during a strategy implementation in a crisis context, more specifically the one triggered by Covid-19 virus.
Methodology/approach: The approach used was a single, in-depth case study. We adopted a process perspective, which considers the sequence of events and choices made over time, at multiple levels and units of analysis. We analyzed documents and interviewed members of top management, middle management, operational management and two consultants working in the investigated company. We then seek to identify instances of action and interaction where patterns could emerge.
Originality/Relevance: There is an increasing number of studies about the role of middle management in the organizations strategic process, but there are still few empirical studies in crisis contexts. This study investigates strategic implementation process during the Covid-19 crisis, shedding light on dynamics of control, relationship and autonomy involving top and middle levels of management.
Main results: We identified that the Covid-19 crisis enabled the closer approximation of top management with the middle managers, intensified by Crisis Committee meetings in the organization. The crisis management also catalyzed the process of reducing ambiguities and opening up senior management for the presentation and acceptance of ideas from the middle echelons.
Theoretical/methodological contributions: Our findings contribute to the literature on crises, revealing both the process of strengthening relationships between top and middle managers, as well as the building content from the contributions of the middle managers, which can lead to a superior result. We also endorse the impacts of the facilitating conditions proposed by Mantere (2008) based on the work of Floyd & Wooldridge (1992), even in the context of crisis. We also endorsed the proposals by Macpherson, Breslin and Akinci (2021) on the role of middle managers as connectors for initiatives in extreme situations that, otherwise, would not have visibility.
Social contributions / for practice: For practice, we launch additional clues in favor of greater openness of top managers for the participation of middle managers in the implementation and strategic adaptation, even in a context of crisis. Similarly, we demonstrated that extreme crisis contexts are prone to rethink interorganizational structures and relationships, aiming at the renewal of management strategies and roles.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

Livia Aquino Machado, Fundação Dom Cabral (FDC)

Master in Business Administration, Fundação Dom Cabral (FDC)

Maria Elisa Brandão Bernardes, Fundação Dom Cabral (FDC)

PhD in Management, Fundação Dom Cabral (FDC)

Samir Lótfi Vaz, Fundação Dom Cabral (FDC)

Doctor of Business Administration, Fundação Dom Cabral (FDC)


Abdallah, C., Lusiani, M., & Langley, A. (2019). Performing process research. In Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: Emerald Publishing Limited.

Andrews (1971). 'The Concept of Corporate Strategy', in The Concept of Corporate Strategy, Homewood, IL: Dow Jones-Irwin, pp. 18-46.

Ateş, N. Y., Tarakci, M., Porck, J. P., van Knippenberg, D., & Groenen, P. J. F. (2020). The Dark Side of Visionary Leadership in Strategy Implementation: Strategic Alignment, Strategic Consensus, and Commitment. Journal of Management, 46(5), pp. 637-665.

Bardin, L. (1977). Análise de Conteúdo (1a ed.). Lisboa: Edições 70.

Barton, L., & Ambrosini, V. (2012). The moderating effect of organizational change cynicism on middle manager strategy commitment. The International Journal of Human Management, 24(4):1-26.

Bauer, M. (2002). Análise de conteúdo clássica: uma revisão. In: M. Bauer., & G. Gaskell (Eds.). Pesquisa Qualitativa com Texto, Imagem e Som: um manual prático. Petrópolis: Vozes. pp. 189-219.

Blau, P. M. (1964). Exchange and power in social life: Transaction publ.

Bower, J. L. (1970). Managing the resource allocation process: A study of corporate planning and investment decision. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School.

Bundy, J., Pfarrer, M. D., Short, C. E., & Coombs, W. T. (2016). Crises and Crisis Management: Integration, Interpretation, and Research Development. Journal of Management, 43(6), pp.1661-1692.

Burgelman, R. A. (1983). A process model of internal corporate venturing in the diversified major firm. Administrative Science Quarterly, 28(2), pp.223-244.

Burgelman, R. A. (1991). Intraorganizational ecology of strategy making and organizational adaptation: Theory and field research. Organization science, 2(3), pp.239-262.

Burgelman, R. A. (1994). Fading memories: A process theory of strategic business exit in dynamic environments. Administrative Science Quarterly, pp.24-56.

Canales, J. I. (2013). Constructing interlocking rationales in top‐driven strategic renewal. British Journal of Management, 24(4), pp.498-514.

Christianson, M. K., Farkas, M. T., Sutcliffe, K. M., & Weick, K. E. (2009). Learning Through Rare Events: Significant Interruptions at the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum. Organization Science, 20(5), pp. 846-860.

Cropanzano, R., & Mitchell, M. S. (2005). Social exchange theory: An interdisciplinary review. Journal of management, 31(6), pp.874-900.

Dwyer, G., Hardy, C., & Tsoukas, H. (2021). Struggling to make sense of it all: The emotional process of sensemaking following an extreme incident. Human Relations, 00187267211059464.

Eisenhardt, K. M. (1989). Building theories from case study research. Academy of management review, 14(4), pp.532-550.

Emerson, R. M. (1976). Social exchange theory. Annual Review of Sociology, 2, pp.335–362.

Floyd, S. W., & Lane, P. J. (2000). Strategizing throughout the organization: managing role conflict in strategic renewal. Academy of Management Review, 25, pp.154–77.

Floyd, S. W., & Wooldridge, B. (1992). Middle management involvement in strategy and its association with strategic type: A research note. Strategic management journal, 13(S1), 153-167.

Galbraith, J. R., & Nathanson, D. A. (1978). Strategy implementation: The role of structure and process. West Publishing Company.

Gouldner, A. W. (1960). The norm of reciprocity: A preliminary statement. American sociological review, pp.161-178.

Guth, W. D., & MacMillan, I. C. (1986). Strategy implementation versus middle manager self-interest. Strategic Management Journal, 7. pp.313-327.

Hambrick, D. C., & Mason, P. A. (1984). Upper echelons: The organization as a reflection of its top managers. Academy of management review, 9(2), pp.193-206.

Hannah, S. T., Uhl-Bien, M., Avolio, B. J., & Cavarretta, F. L. (2009). A framework for examining leadership in extreme contexts. The Leadership Quarterly, 20(6), pp.897-919.

Heyden, M. L. M., Fourné, S. P. L., Koene, B. A. S., Werkman, R., & Ansari, S. (2017). Rethinking ‘Top‐Down’ and ‘Bottom‐Up’ Roles of Top and Middle Managers in Organizational Change: Implications for Employee Support. Journal of Management Studies, 54(7), pp.961-985.

Heyden, M. L., Wilden, R., & Wise, C. (2020). Navigating crisis from the backseat? How top managers can support radical change initiatives by middle managers. Industrial Marketing Management, 88, pp.305-313.

Hrebiniak, L. G., & Joyce, W. F. (1984). Implementing strategy. MacMillan.

Katz, D., & Kahn, R. L. (1978). Organizations and the system concept. Classics of organization theory, 80, p.480.

Kieran, S., MacMahon, J., & MacCurtain, S. (2020). Strategic change and sensemaking practice: enabling the role of the middle manager. Baltic journal of management. Vol. 15 No. 4, pp. 493-514.

Langley, A. (1999). Strategies for theorizing from process data. Academy of Management review, 24(4), pp.691-710.

Lovisi, P. (2020, 18 de março). Coronavírus: Kalil manda fechar bares, shoppings e outros comércios de BH; delivery é permitido. Estado de Minas. Recuperado em 18 dez. 2020 de,1130210/coronavirus-kalil-manda-fechar-bares-shoppings-e-outros-comercios-de.shtml

Macpherson, A., Breslin, D., & Akinci, C. (2021). Organizational learning from hidden improvisation. Organization Studies, 01708406211035509.

Mantere, S. (2008). Role expectations and middle manager strategic agency. Journal of management studies, 45(2), 294-316.

Mintzberg, H. & J. Waters. (1985). Of strategies, deliberate and emergent. Strategic Management Journal, 6, pp. 257-272.

Mirabeau, L., & Maguire, S. (2014). From autonomous strategic behavior to emergent strategy. Strategic Management Journal, 35(8), pp.1202-1229.

Noble, C. H. (1999). The eclectic roots of strategy implementation research. Journal of Business Research, 45(2): 119–134.

Pettigrew, A. M. (1992). The character and significance of strategy process research. Strategic Management Journal, 13(S2), pp.5-16.

Pickton, D. W., & Wright, S. (1998). What's swot in strategic analysis? Strategic Change, 7(2), pp.101-109.<101::AID-JSC332>3.0.CO;2-6

Raes, A. M., Heijltjes, M. G., Glunk, U., & Roe, R. A. (2011). The interface of the top management team and middle managers: A process model. Academy of Management Review, 36(1), 102-126.

Rouleau, L., Hällgren, M., & de Rond, M. (2020). Covid‐19 and Our Understanding of Risk, Emergencies, and Crises. Journal of Management Studies, 10.1111/joms.12649.

Sillince, J., & Mueller, F. (2007). Switching strategic perspective: The reframing of accounts of responsibility. Organization Studies, 28(2), pp.155-176.

Splitter, V., Jarzabkowski, P., & Seidl, D. (2021). Middle managers’ struggle over their subject position in Open Strategy processes. Journal of Management Studies.

Sull, D. N., & Spinosa, C. (2007). Promise-based management. Harvard business review, 85(4), pp.79-86.

UNASUS. Coronavírus: Brasil confirma primeiro caso da doença. (n.d.). Portal UNA-SUS. Recuperado em 18 dez. 2020 de

Vaz, S. L., Bernardes, M. E. B., Bulgacov, S., & das Mercês Milagres, R. (2021). Microfoundations of (inter) action between top and middle managers in strategic implementation. Revista Ibero-Americana de Estratégia, 20(1), 18113.

Vaz, S. L., Raes, A. M., & Heyden, M. L. (2022). Realizing implementation through relational exchanges with top managers: the mediating role of middle managers’ divergent strategic behavior. Journal of Management Control, pp. 1-28.

Weiser, A. K., Jarzabkowski, P., & Laamanen, T. (2020) Completing the adaptive turn: An integrative view of strategy implementation. Academy of Management Annals, 14(2), pp.969-1031.

Wenzel, M., Stanske, S., & Lieberman, M. B. (2020). Strategic responses to crisis. Strategic Management Journal, 41(7/18).

Wooldridge, B., Schmidt, T., & Floyd, S. W. (2008) The middle management perspective on strategy process: contributions, synthesis, and future research. Journal of management, 34(6), pp. 1190-1221.

Wooldridge, B., & Floyd, S. W. (1990). The strategy process, middle management involvement, and organizational performance. Strategic management journal, 11(3), pp.231-241.

Yin, R. K. (2015). Estudo de Caso: Planejamento e Métodos (5a ed.). São Paulo: Bookman Editora.



How to Cite

Machado, L. A., Bernardes, M. E. B., & Vaz, S. L. (2022). Relationship evolution between the top and middle management in a strategic implementation process in the context of the COVID-19 crisis. Revista Ibero-Americana De Estratégia, 21(2), e21448.



Enfrentamento e respostas estratégicas a crises e incertezas