The Micromanaging Dilemma

A culture of micromanaging can seriously debilitate an organization. It disempowers employees, demotivates the high achievers and can eventually lead to an organization full of incompetent “Yes People”. To quote General George Patton, “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”

No manager sets out to be a micromanager but managing by definition is a function that inexorably turns the best of leaders into micromanagers. In many cases, managers do not even realize that they are gravitating toward micromanagement until the habit becomes deeply embedded in their style of management. Their subordinates also become used to this micromanaging style and can only operate if they are micromanaged.

Some of the most successful leaders have been known for their non interfering management style. Ronald Reagan is considered to be one of the most successful presidents of America. But what were his credentials? Not much to boast of really. He was a B-list Hollywood actor who later became the governor of California. By the end of his tenure in 1989, he was a fallible 78 years old man who was often seen dozing off in important meetings. However, he had an uncanny sense of surrounding himself with the best of talent. Casper Weinberger, Alexander Haig, George Shultz, James Baker were the legendary figures of his administration who reached the pinnacle of their success under Ronald Reagan because he gave them the independence and free reign to do what they did best.

Netflix is a modern-day miracle. Ever since it debuted in 1998 and mercilessly decapitated Blockbuster the Goliath of home entertainment, Netflix’s growth and influence have been unrelenting. This year it briefly overtook Disney as the world’s most valuable entertainment company. Reed Hastings the CEO of Netflix has just published a book titled “No Rules Rules” which gives an insight into how this maverick entrepreneur has created a culture of empowerment and freedom in Netflix which to most observers would border on anarchy. But as per Hastings, it is this very culture that makes Netflix successful.

If empowerment and delegation are the holy grail to a manager’s success, why is it that so few are able to practice it and what can we do to make this a part of the culture of our organization? First of all, empowerment will only work when there is a conscious policy of meritocracy in an organization. A policy of meritocracy is when you reward the good performers and weed out the non-performers in your team. You cannot empower incompetent people. Wherever there is an example of management success, there is evidence of a highly competent team in place. There is a lot of controversy about running an organization on the policy of meritocracy. The term “hire and fire” is a dysphemism used to denigrate the concept of meritocracy. Cruel and inhuman though it may sound, I think it is best in everyone’s interest to let go of a non-performer. If he is not being appreciated, he will be unhappy and he will spread this unhappiness like a contagious disease to others in the team. Let him go and find a place to work where he will be appreciated for what he is. Do not prolong his misery in your team.

Having an incompetent person in the team also sets off a very dangerous chain reaction. It forces a leader to micromanage. Because the leader is not confident about his team member, he has to constantly check on the progress rather than entrust the person with the job and have a periodic review meeting and hear of the satisfactory progress. Due to the lack of competence of his team member, the leader would often be required to do the work himself. These may be menial tasks like editing the drafts of letters or checking the advertising budget or getting involved in the production process for wastage control. If the manager has to do his subordinate’s job then why was this person recruited in the first place? If a competent person is recruited for the job, then the manager can just communicate the bigger picture and let his team member deliver outstanding results. The objective for every manager should be to delegate as much as possible to the extent of delegating more than he feels comfortable about delegating. The old adage: “If you want something done right, do it yourself” is the antithesis of good management practice. Junior team members should be encouraged to take on challenges and spread their wings. The boss’s job is to ensure that good systems and procedures are in place and that there are no bottlenecks that impede the work of his team members.

Efficient management is a two-way street. If the boss has to learn to delegate and stop micromanaging, his team member must also act responsibly. If a job is clearly defined and you as a team member have accepted the assignment then it is like a contract you have signed with your boss. You are to deliver the results NOT give reasons or excuses for failing to get it done. The typical excuses of blame-shifting or complaining about non-co-operation from another person or another department or whining about the competitor’s aggressive marketing strategy is not conducive to having a winning team. The common understanding in the whole team must be that if you take on a job you MUST deliver the results. Constantly review your daily tasks and when doing this exercise always leave behind “excuses” that you may be tempted to put up. Take responsibility for your actions and or inactions. When you use a problem-solving mindset, it will be easier for you to avoid making excuses and this will be beneficial to you and your organization. In case you feel overwhelmed by the workload, or do not understand how to get it done, talk to your boss or seek the help of a colleague. Just keeping things bottled up inside will not get you the desired results. If you make a mistake, take ownership of it. We all make mistakes. Correct the mistake so that your boss does not have to correct it for you and try not to make the same mistake again.

What separates a good organization from a bad one is the culture of the organization and empowerment of employees has to be an integral part of the culture of any good organization.

I will end with a quote that sums up this article- “Build a team so strong, you do not know who the boss is”.


Comments (8)
  • Thanks for your thoughtful observation. Micromanagement is the DNA of Bengali culture. It stems from the fact that Bengalees do not respect time, the importance of delivery of a quality product and never tries to align with the mission and vision of the organization. There is a tendency to overload the employee and then start micromanaging by the boss. The culture of a boss is another issue. Who is a boss? None, everyone is boss in their area. Lack of teamwork and accountability to a team is absent. So, you end up with the person. You appointed someone because you personally know the person or did not vet well by HR. The reference was not well checked, the job description was not well constructed and you start with an unqualified person. You promoted someone as an internal candidate because he or she is there for a long time. And made the program lose its diversity and you start micromanaging the person. Independent verification and periodic organization assessment are the keys. Maybe the boss needs to be removed from this unit. Transparency and accountability are the keys to micromanagement, not close-door meetings. The buck stops there.

  • Dear Sir
    Salute! It is an extremely mind-blowing blog and did not expect such a masterpiece of writing from us and wishing to have you as my mentor and looking forward to your upcoming blog.

    Airlines professional, wish to contribute to our commercial aviation sector.

  • I understood from this momentous writings:
    – Close intervene or over bearing generates lack of freedom and retreats the process.
    – Freedom of work creates ingenious, sense of responsibility and empowerment.
    – We need to evaluate the proven qualified and eliminate proven unsuited.

  • The culture of “Yes sir, yes sir” is very bad. You are absolutely right sir.

  • Sir,
    I have just completed your article on micromanaging dilemma. It’s an excellent article about a well-timed subject matter. I do agree with you that there is a dilemma in micromanaging which seriously debilitates an organization.
    Extracting from your pleasant article and also few points added by me, it can be summed up that the following issues force a leader to micromanage (why an organization fails!):

    – Lack of delegation of power and authority to the people within an organization in compatible with their responsibilities;
    – Not having appropriate planning (both overall business plan and individual’s work plan) or not putting a plan into effect (i.e. failure to implement a plan);
    – Lack of monitoring and follow-up on operations by the different level of management;
    – Inadequate business review and analysis including SWOT analysis, and poor reporting system;
    – Not having right people in right place (weakness in HR management) and thereby failure to build a strong team;
    – Not ensuring accountability in the workplace;
    – Absence of appropriate policies and SOPs (i.e. Benchmarks not in place);
    – Reward and punishment system not in place;
    – Absence of ethical practices and having conflicts of interest;
    – Relying more on ‘individual’ than ‘systems’;
    – Internal control system/ Check and balance (thereby reducing business risks) not in place;
    – Lack of good governance and culture;
    – Not being able to manage/ control Internal Factors/Forces e.g. cost control (External factors are generally beyond control);
    – Lack of appropriate concentration on business and adequate time to be given to the business by the board of directors/ management/ the owners; and so on.

    In fact, organizational structure and management hierarchy are very important to get rid of the dilemma. Strategic Apex (i.e. Top Managers), Middle Line (i.e. Middle and first-line managers) and Operating Core (i.e. Direct operational staff) have the different level of power, authority, responsibility, accountability etc. Strategic Apex sets the organization’s vision, mission, goals etc. and ensures the organization follows/achieves these. Middle Line conveys the goals set by the strategic apex and controls the works of the operating core in pursuit of these goals. Operating Core are the people directly involved in the process of obtaining inputs, and converting them into outputs. There is a clear demarcation of responsibilities to be discharged by different level of people within an organization.

    Finally, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for such a pleasant and well-timed article.

  • Micromanaging Dilemma
    A manager duplicating a subordinate’s efforts in his/ her assignments is referred to micromanaging. Too much interference or spoon feeding a team amounts to micromanaging. Managers’ role are to get jobs done by others/ team members perfectly. Managers lead/ guide teams to achieve desired result. But micromanaging often incapacitates the members and curtail their initiatives resulting to delay and poor performance. As such, micromanaging is considered a detrimental attribute of a manager. But, unfortunately, this is the order of the day. The author has examined the subject into deep and focused on the means to overcome this inclination.
    Organizational Culture, work environment, competence of the people in an organization help greatly overcome micromanaging. Author sees good people in the team do excellent, not micromanaged. To keep an organizational hierarchy alive and effective there should be an overseeing mechanism, e.g. centralized control and decentralized execution but not restraining the individuals’ creativity through micromanaging. Empowerment relates to meritocracy while incompetence leads to micromanaging. In this connection the author has given a wonderful example of Ronald Regan’s Administration, where all the key personnel around him were the most competent people of the time that branded the Regan’s presidency most successful of the US regime.
    The topic is very relevant to study, understand and follow both at macro and micro level, at the govt. and corporate bodies.

  • Its always nice to hear from people with deep experience with the subject matter. You pointed rightly that organization’s culture and quality of team is key determinant in deciding how much to delegate. Quality of team breathe trust in the management that makes delegation easier.

    The organization who do excel do so because there is no single star in the team that seal the fate of the team. Rather there is tendency to let everyone find their niche.

  • Micromanagement is the ultimate controlling management style. It’s demoralizing and counter-intuitive, as the desire for control to make sure everything goes to plan only creates more problems in the long-term.

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