Micromanagement is bad, but so is negligence.

Shawnee Love   •  
March 17, 2011

All the best leadership gurus talk about micromanagement as a way to dis-empower your employees and create a culture of mediocrity. I have heard leaders proudly proclaim they “hire smart people and then step back and let them run it”.

This philosophy works great as long as everything is running smoothly and correctly; however, the holes in the theory are revealed when a problem arises. When something goes wrong, e.g., when there is an accusation of wrong-doing, someone gets hurt, morale goes down, the company value starts to tank, etc., no one will accept an owner’s ignorance as a defence.

The court of public opinion expects owners to take responsibility for what happens in their company just like it expects politicians and generals to be aware of what their troops are up to.

“I didn’t know that was happening. I let my management team run the business without getting involved” is not an acceptable defence and can get you branded either a liar or incompetent for your trouble. Courts don’t take kindly to ignorance as a defence either, and you can be held personally liable and fined for the actions of your employees if they cause harm. Case in point, owners can be held personally liable for employee injuries and death on worksites.

So what is a good business owner to do? On one hand you should be hands off when managing staff. You can set out what you want accomplished, and let your talented people figure out how to do their jobs. On the other hand, if you are going to be held personally liable for problems, you want to have your finger on the pulse of what is going on and how it is being accomplished.

I don’t think anyone has to make a choice of being branded a micromanager or negligent if they simply stay connected.  Have regular feedback sessions, or rather “feed back and forward” sessions. These don’t mean you are micromanaging, just that you are staying informed of what is being done and how, and occasionally you are spot checking to ensure you understand. I say “Feed-back and forward”, because not only are you checking on what happened and how it was accomplished, but you are also asking about what is coming down the pipe and how your employees plan to handle the challenges facing them.

Tachi Yamada, President of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program articulated this concept well in an interview for the NY Times when he said he doesn’t micromanage but he is “micro-interested”.  Be micro interested in what is going on in your company. That doesn’t mean you have your fingers in every pie, just that you are asking enough questions to be confident you know what the pies are made of and how they are being baked.