Micro Management


Tim Bryce asked:

This is not the first time I have talked about micromanagement over the years, and I am sure it won’t be my last. Recently, I had some business friends complain to me how their employees cannot follow directions. But on the other hand, I also know a lot of people who wonder why management doesn’t trust them to do their job properly. You see this not only in the corporate world but in nonprofit organizations as well. Today, managers are spending more time supervising the work of others as opposed to actually managing them.

Back in the 1960’s and 1970’s we talked a lot about empowering workers and teamwork, but the pendulum seems to have swung the other way and micromanagement is now in vogue in today’s corporate cultures. I have a theory as to why this has happened:

First, we now live in a litigious society where everyone is paranoid about accepting responsibilities that may result in a lawsuit. As a result, employees come down with an acute case of “The Stupids” and heaps everything on their manager’s desk. Such a mindset means there is little, if any, self-initiative by employees.

Second, we overly structure the activities of our youth, be it at home, in school, or on the playground. For example, when I was a kid I was always ready for a pickup game of baseball (I think I carried my glove and bat with me just about everywhere). But the youth of today doesn’t think this way anymore. Instead, they need uniforms, equipment, coaches and manicured baseball fields in order to play. Further, they are more inclined to play an electronic game indoors as opposed to interacting with their peers. This is causing our youth to become socially despondent and a legitimate cause for concern in the workplace in the years ahead. And because they are only being given tasks to perform around the home, and not responsibilities, there is no sense of initiative being instilled in them. In other words, our youth are being subliminally trained to accept micromanagement. How about delegating some responsibilities to them instead? We used to call this “chores” in the old days.

Third, We’ve forgotten how to manage. Regardless if you are in the corporate world or a nonprofit volunteer organization, our leaders are now more driven by ego as opposed to a results orientation. Being a manager is not about having a fancy job title or building an empire, its about producing a quality product or service on time and within budget. And the only way this can be accomplished is through people. Consequently, managers need to develop their interpersonal communications and leadership skills. Its not about numbers or technology, its about people.

Managers want workers to show some self-initiative and perform their work well, but to do so, you have to train them properly and trust them accordingly. This means building loyalty and investing in the staff. It also means empowering them with responsibility and holding them accountable. Employees have to understand what their duties and goals are, and be allowed to try and conquer them. “Empowerment” implicitly means a worker has a right to try. This of course means motivation, training, and experience.

The three “top-down” primary duties of a manager are:

1. Delegate – prioritize and assign tasks to qualified employees.

2. Control work environment – minimize staff interferences and provide a suitable workplace to operate with the proper tools to perform the work.

3. Review progress – study employee reports and take corrective action where necessary.

In return, the “bottom-up” responsibilities of the workers include:

1. Participate in the planning process – review work specifications and give feedback; estimate amount of time to perform an assignment, assist in the calculation of work schedules with management.

2. Perform work within time and costs constraints.

3. Report activities to management – including the use of time, interferences, possible delays, and anticipated accelerations of schedules.

This “bottom-up” approach to management represents an empowerment scenario where the workers are made to realize their voice is important, builds trust, and encourages initiative.

But if you are the type of manager that finds its necessary to supervise the actions of your workers, than you are part of the problem, not the solution. Remember: “Manage more, supervise less.

“Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere.”

– Ronald Reagan (1986)

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