By Richard Wright, Head of Marketing, Scoro
Frustrating. Demoralising. Demotivating. Harvard Business Review (HBR) takes a dim view of micromanagement, and it’s not alone. Famous micromanagers who changed their style, such as Apple’s Steve Jobs, are often held up as shining examples of reformed characters. Run an online search and the result will likely include countless articles warning that micromanagement of individuals kills creativity, productivity, and trust.
But is this bad reputation really deserved?
Taken as an approach that keeps employees in check by scrutinising their every move, it can be highly destructive and worthy of the tyrannical ‘puppeteer’ image. When applied to processes and systems to keep a company on track, however, it can have significant benefits.
Providing structure to drive productivity
Whatever their sector, businesses need structure. HBR, for instance, has recently highlighted the growth of ‘under-management’, and its consequences. Afraid of seeming domineering, leaders are increasingly adopting a relaxed attitude that involves little goal setting or tracking, which means teams are finding it harder to deliver results. That’s not to mention the risks of running lax operations, which can create costly mistakes, reduce service quality, and result in rear-view-mirror tactics — where leaders only take action after incidents have occurred and spend too much of their time firefighting.
Used effectively, micromanagement of systems and processes can ensure the organisational efficiency required to avoid such chaos, without tipping over into excessive nit-picking. The key difference between negative and positive usage is a focus on controlling systems, not people. Proactive micromanagement is about creating procedures to help employees reach their full potential and ensure the business machine stays streamlined.
For example, establishing smarter systems for safeguarding and optimising use of time, such as checklists. Simple as it sounds, encouraging employees to build and follow defined activity schedules can go a long way towards minimising errors. With a clear picture of key priorities, individuals can direct their attention where it’s most needed and tell whether incoming tasks, emails, and instant messages are genuinely urgent. Plus, as well as keeping projects on course, moving through lists drives a continual sense of progress that motivates workers to reach further.
Preventing problems before they occur
But it’s important to remember that great leaders don’t shift all responsibility to their people. As senior figures are ultimately accountable for business success, they must both empower individuals and take active steps to secure a sustainable future. This means that alongside efforts aimed at improving employee performance — from better time management to role-specific training — micromanagement should include leader-driven systems for proactively preventing issues.
For example, taking charge of workflow management by implementing time monitoring platforms with the ability to connect information from every area of the organisation in one place. At the macro level, holistic oversight provides leaders with a real-time view of overall performance and the capacity to pinpoint potential problems before they arise; whether that’s upcoming bottlenecks or fast growth in markets where resources are currently limited. At the micro level, leaders can zoom in on particular projects or teams and identify where process changes are needed.
Say, for instance, data shows an individual is persistently pulled onto different tasks and barely has time to finish one project before being distracted by another. Aside from the fact multi-tasking is shown to cause slower task completion, this kind of working environment triggers stress that seriously impacts mental wellness. A leader with access to time tracking insights can immediately spot these early red flags and step in, applying processes such as designated ‘do not disturb’ hours where employees can devote themselves to one task, work at their own pace, and cut out interruption. This way the power is given back to the employee by removing congestion in their diaries and allowing them to focus on their day to day duties. Businesses could even take the forward-looking precaution of appointing a ‘Chief Time Officer’ who is responsible for keeping an eye on time-stealing practices throughout the working day.
Too often, leaders avoid anything resembling structured work for fear of being seen as overbearing and earning the micromanager stigma. Instead, they need to recognise there is a difference between over-zealous interference and useful attention to detail. Every successful company is powered by well-oiled systems, but people don’t tend to think systematically; the role of a leader is to build systems that allow their workers to operate as efficiently as possible. By taking back control of time and micromanaging workplace processes – not people – they can defend their workforce against inefficiencies and give them the freedom to thrive.
About the Author
Richard Wright is the Head of Marketing at business management software provider, Scoro. For over 10 years he has worked with tech companies such as Lithium, Seismic and Tealium to scale demand and increase market presence. Richard lives by the maxim “Take your work seriously, not yourself”.