The Marzipan Layer

I love a good analogy. Somehow they help you see things very differently.

I recently stumbled across an interesting description of middle management – the “marzipan Layer”. My very limited research suggests that it describes those in an organisation who are a cut above the cake itself but who are not quite wealthy enough to be the icing. Dame Laura Tyson, one of Barack Obama’s economic advisors, has used the term to mean the layer of managers ‘stuck’ below the top-level ‘icing’.

In my line of work I see the marzipan layer as something slightly different. It can often be the layer within an organisation where communications get stuck. It can often prove to be a bit of an impenetrable layer, where important messages from the executive team get stuck and never make it down to the bulk of the workforce underneath.

Likewise, important feedback and ideas from the ‘cake’ too often never make it up through the marzipan layer to the ‘icing’. There are any number of reasons for this, many of which are legitimate and understandable. They can be addressed through training, awareness, support, and incentivisation. The one standout exception is those managers who deliberately hold back on passing feedback up the line because they fear it will make them look bad.

In a culinary sense, Marzipan it is a dense pungent paste made from ground almonds and sugar. It serves to provide an impenetrable layer protecting the spotless and clinically clean icing from being stained by the moist rich fruit cake underneath it.

Hey maybe there is more to this analogy than I first thought!

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