Toby Elwin, blog, requisite, organization, uncertainty, Michael Raynor

All hail the solution to the micromanager

The Atom, micromanager, solution, Michael Raynor, DC

The micromanager: atomic in scope with the disruptive patience of a live grenade

Raise your hand if you love working for a micromanager. The micromanager grinds work to a halt. Are you a micromanager? You can raise your hand if you are, no one else knows — actually, everyone already knows if you are.

Micromanagers exhaust motivation and grind down the gears or efficiency by checking, double-checking, asking for reports, and work re-check and review.

If there is no confidence in work getting done, the fish rots from the head, the blame: management.

How to handle the micromanager?

The solution: recruit, train, and retain people with the ability, competence, confidence, and authority to perform their job.

The micromanager is a decision-making bottleneck and strategic performance inhibitor.

The grand solution: manage strategy and your organization through a relative delivery timeline.

When you think about strategy and results as a timeline you realize not only how unlikely your strategy is to succeed, but more directly, who your true boss is:

  • Need something done today? Who do you rely on?
  • Need something done in three months? Who do you rely on?
  • Need something done before the end of the year? Who do you rely on?
  • Need something done beyond three years? Who do you rely on?

When people mix need across timelines like I need it today, I need it in a month, or I need to plan for next year, each requires different stakeholders, different customers, and of course different bosses.

Each timeline relies on unique performance expectations. As I’ve said to many clients, “fire de jour is an operating strategy for a broken organization”.

One of the best discoveries I’ve had in business thinking over last three years is Requisite Organization. Initially, I found out about Requisite Organization while working at Deloitte Consulting from Michael Raynor, a distinguished Fellow with Deloitte, and his book The Strategy Paradox.

Mr. Raynor modifies Requisite Organization to Requisite Uncertainty to reinforce the time component of risk. For this blog the concepts remain similar enough to go forward.

In essence, strategy, like predicting any certainty of the future, the longer the time horizon the more variable the risk:

  • need something tomorrow, you might expect a 50% accuracy of predicting tomorrow’s event;
  • need something in three years, there is a pretty low probability you can predict that accurate outcome three years from now

The longer the timeline, the larger the variables and the larger the variables, the larger the risk: both known and unknown.

So take a corporate strategy, any corporate strategy. At the executive level (C-level suite), the operational level (directors, business unit leads, regional managers), and the technical level (do-ers, skilled workers, producers) each have different needs and these needs are really based on how time plays a role in variables and risk at each the level:

  1. Executives care about the health of the organization three to five years and beyond [really are we at 1-year and beyond], their goal is to not only assure the organization both exists in five years, but healthier five years and beyond*;
  2. The operational level is concerned about all that happens within the year, mainly how to execute the operations from three months to a year that will combine to deliver to the executive, or three- to five-year, strategy; and
  3. The technical level is concerned about getting their work turned around from one day to three months. That is where they need to deliver, they provide the work that combines to deliver to the quarterly and annual results – they deliver to the operational demand

Here’s the part I love: executive and operational levels can combine for a robust dialogue and planning session, after all, the operational level should provide great insight into the needs at a more specific level, but after a finalized executive strategy, no more dialogue, no more alternatives. The operational level now turns their attention to the three month to one-year horizon.

At the three month to one year horizon they, the operational level, with executive empowerment for complete flexibility to modify and react to the changing marketing, economic, or business demands. And the executive team must not micromanage or poke their nose into the operational sphere.

Executives need to provide complete flexibility, hear updates, and be available for counsel, but really empower their people the leeway across the year to plan, do, study, and adjust throughout that year. Executives may now rely on quarterly reports to understand if the program is on track or off track and what options the operational team have tried or will tried.

Just as the executive level needs to keep their view on the three- to five-year horizon and maximize all their effort to learn about shifting conditions, the operational level looking at three months to one years, must, in turn, not interfere with the technical level.

Though the executive strategy cascades to the operational timeline, the technical management has now taken work packages apart to assign resources to plan to get all the things they need to deliver from one day to three months.

The operational leads, in turn, should empower their technical team and their management to use their ability to modify and make adjustments to meet the timelines to deliver. Operational leads should not micromanage, operational leads should empower.

When strategy can convert to time, it really provides a great framework to assign resources, manage risk, empower employees, communication, and clear out all micromanagement.

*Though, frankly five year plans in this increasingly digital connection with customers seem to demand Agile realities of far less years or months to remain viable, the relative event horizons remain the relative solution.

Post script:

Check out Michael Raynor’s great book here where he also talks about scenario planning and strategic flexibility as organization enablers:

Michael Raynor, Strategy Paradox, Deloitte, Toby Elwin

Also, nice blog by Scott Berkun: An open letter to micromanagers

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Comments 3

  1. Toby, this is a great post. I agree with you that leaders are far more effective with great delegation, truly training and empowering their people to make the decisions they need to. Micromanagers cannot be strategic because they get caught up in small time frames. They also don't develop their people to create greater team capacity as they could.

    Keep up the great insights!

    1. Post

      I seem to see the cost of focus most apparent in small companies or entrepreneurs who have to be the executive, operational, and technical experts all in 1 role, or the 3 roles shared as part of a small group. The ability to delineate and focus on one of the 3 roles for an extended length of time is a great way to clear away the clutter and be more effective.

      For example: thinking about the long-term health of the organization as you struggle to fulfill orders or have quality issues is really conflicts with the pressing needs of reality. Just separating the executive options you may have by keeping these thoughts in a separate 'executive' notebook for review once a month or so is a way to become focused on getting the tactical day-to-day done and keeping your eye on maximizing what is important.

      A small business owner needs discipline to bring an executive view rarely more that once a month or once every two or three months, based on keeping all executive thoughts in a notebook for this periodic review. This allows you, the small business owner, to get down to the brass tacks of the operations and giving your customer the operational or technical attention they need for an outstanding experience.

      Though it is easiest to see the juggling executive, operational, and technical hats of a small business owner, it happens often in corporate settings and Fortune 500 environments – usually through the micromanager or the person who had great technical skill that was promoted based on daily delivery to operational management or executive roles. It is easy to see the conflict and competing views.

      Thanks for the post Bob, I've enjoyed your writing and thoughts for quite some time and highly recommend anyone watching to check out Bob's blog site at:

  2. Thanks for the shout-out, Toby.
    I like your thoughts about separating out the three roles of expertise. Too many roles, ends up with too little quality for any of them.

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