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Micromanagers and Their Fading Bottom Line or Where Did the Productivity Go?

Mar 26, 2008
I recently received this e-mail: "I work for City Government and the City Council has been throwing the word "Micromanage" around in the Council meetings. Since there is an election coming up, they all seem to have their own idea of what the word "Micromanage" means (of which some are way off base). What is micromanaging and what is not?"

Micromanaging has become a hot buzzword. I use it, my clients use it, and now government is beginning to use it. As stated in the above the term can be misused. Perhaps it is time to better define the concept.

Micromanaging is usually synonymous with the "old way of doing things." "Dinosaur" managers use the micromanagement approach. The term essentially means to supervise every small step in the workflow process -- hence the 'micro.'

This method worked fairly well in the 'old' production days when assembly line workers were uneducated and unskilled. These workers normally did one routine step and that was it. They made few or no decisions. They had a minimum production quota.

Their breaks were monitored, their lunches were monitored and of course the time clock was monitored. Time was viewed as what was 'bought' by the company.

Close supervision or micromanaging ensured that production levels were met. Management literally had to tell employees what to do and watch them to make sure they did it.

This system worked well when workflow was simple. As the business world became more complex, micromanaging became less effective. Time was not what the company bought and the worker sold. Productivity became the key.

As processes became more complex, workers were required to gain greater skills. Skilled workers became more in demand and could go elsewhere if not treated properly. Skilled workers eventually found micromanagers offensive and more importantly optional.

After 2000 it seems companies became more results oriented. In an increasingly competitive business environment they had to. As time became even less of a factor in the results equation, motivation and innovation began to be understood as the real forces in productivity results.

Workers became employees and then associates and team members. Employees began to be viewed as assets and not just expenses. Employers began to understand that employees could provide the greatest competitive advantage as well as the number one management headache. In short, employees could make or break the company.

Managers began to understand that good management meant maximizing employee productivity and this could no longer be accomplished by micromanaging. Managers began to understand that knowing their people and helping them do their best was the best way to reach superior production levels.

Instead of being an obstacle, managers began to understand it was their job to remove obstacles and time constraints have been one of the last obstacles to fall.

Today's managers understand they must constantly assess and improve their workplace processes. They understand that accountability is much more than putting in time and punching the clock.

They no longer insist on telling their employees how to do something because often the employee knows more about what they are doing than the manager.

Also managers have learned that employees can not only solve workplace problems but also can create and innovate. The employee that creates and innovates does not appreciate being treated like the assembly line worker of the past. Many skilled employees feel their micromanagers do not appreciate their contributions.

Micromanaging was a process that worked reasonably well when the work was simple and the bottom line was simple. As work became more complex micromanaging lost its effectiveness. In today's workplace, micromanaging is responsible for many bad bottom lines, poor performances and bankruptcies.

With all the negatives, what's to like about micromanaging?
About the Author
Jack Deal is the owner of JD Deal Business Consulting, Santa Cruz, CA. Related articles may be found at http://www.jddeal.com/blog/management and http://www.freeandinquiringmind.typepad.com
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