Micromanage to Failure

Do you ever look around your organization and wonder why you have to do everything yourself?  Does it seem as though everyone else has stopped trying?  Do you wonder what is going on?

As entrepreneurs, managers, and business founders, we often fall into the trap of wanting to hold onto the reins of every aspect of the business.  We either try to direct every detail of what everyone else is doing (micromanage) or we critically evaluate everything everyone does to find why it isn’t what we would have done or the completed the way we wanted it done. Giving up control is one of the toughest lessons anyone can learn.  Hopefully, we all learn it soon enough that we don’t permanently damage the capability of our organization or waste valuable resources either through using our own time ineffectively or underutilizing the capabilities of others in our organization.

There is a balance between wanting a quality outcome and micromanaging. It is important to distinguish between the things that need to be controlled and those that you want to have done your way simply because it’s the way you do them.  Focusing on the desired result, work product, or outcome enables you to make the distinction between “has to be a completed a certain way to achieve a result” and “has to be done your way because you do it your way”.  Establishing policies, procedures, and controls can be a sound way to ensure that the organization performs to acceptable standards.  Micromanaging is a sure way to frustrate yourself and cripple your organization.

Take a step back and examine all the tasks and activities the organization needs to get done objectively.  With that task list in hand, determine which tasks are ones that truly have to be done by specific people and in specific ways.  No, not every task falls into that category!  Let’s take a look at some ways that things can be delegated and still get a more than acceptable result:

  • Desk procedures
  • Company policies and procedures
  • Work/task descriptions
  • Telephone “scripts”
  • Checklists
  • Specified outcomes/results

Desk procedures are just what they sound like – the activities, steps, and work products that must be done according to plan and to a specified “standard” format.  These standard operating procedures enable you to control what is done and how it looks, IF you have a well-documented role and process.  These types of documents and tools are great for administrative or repetitive tasks.  They can also enable you to utilize temporary and contract employees to “fill-in” with minimal guidance.

Company policies and procedures set across the board standards for operations, actions, and controls.  For instances, a travel reimbursement policy can be written to require a certain form, signatures, and support documentation to be filed. Other activities under this category can include employee attendance policies, customer service processes, procurement controls, and any other administrative or company-wide control.

Work/task descriptions are activities that may be performed through out the organization by different people, roles, or groups.  By establishing an expected process and work product, the organization can get similar results from disparate groups or individuals.

Telephone scripts come into play for anyone who is expected to answer the telephone – particularly incoming calls.  Often the first impression of a company is made over the telephone!  Having a set script may sound “constraining”, but it minimizes the potential for a bad first (second or third) impression.  Having a script is a quality control mechanism, especially if everyone in the company is expected to lend a hand answering the phones or if you rely heavily on temporary staff.

Some activities don’t occur in a prescribed sequence, but you need to be sure that a specific set of points is covered or certain information is gathered or shared.  In that instance, a checklist may be the best document for your organization.

Now for activities and tasks that do not fall into any of the previous categories, the ones that require a specific outcome or result, but do not require a prescribed path.  It is time to loosen the reins and rely on the very capable people you have hired to get the job done.  [Okay, I’ve made an assumption here that you hired capable people.  Did you?  If you didn’t, then who did you hire and why? Maybe you micromanage because you don’t have the right roles or right people defined in your organization. (See previous article Right Role, Right Person, Right Deliverables.].

This process requires you to communicate the specific result, deliverable, and work product that you want from the person.  It requires that you listen to be sure that the person understands what you want, be available to clarify or provide input.  It does not require you to tell them every step or constantly ask for updates.  If you would like progress reports or interim status, then make that request up-front.  Yes, they probably won’t do things exactly as you would have.  Who knows, maybe they’ll do it better!

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