Allen Baler: Why Micromanaging Never Works

Allen Baler on the perils of micromanaging

When recruiting for your company, you definitely want to attract top talent… professionals with a proven track record of success, and a willingness to grow and learn new things.


In other words, you want to hire folks who’ve got “the right stuff.”


So why is it so many companies seem to struggle with exceptionally high turnover rates?


I guess you could say it might be their industry, pay, or the positions offered.


I beg to differ.


As I pointed out in one previous blog, things that motivate great employees don’t always have to do with money, regardless of role.


Exceptional employees desire respect and opportunities to advance.


A recent study from the University of Pennsylvania confirms that autonomy, by and large, leads to greater productivity among workers from the top down.


And while most progressive companies are throwing old business practices like micromanaging on the ash-heap of history, along with multi-line phones and voicemail, some are hanging on for dear life, however counter-intuitive it may seem.


So, what exactly constitutes micromanaging, and why is it so detrimental to both employee morale, and even worse… your bottom line?


In a nutshell, micromanaging is the constant need for managers to police their direct reports’ behavior and insist on accountability tools that scream, “I don’t trust you, therefore I have to incessantly check on your work and physical presence to feel remotely confident your tasks are getting done.”


This can take the form of unnecessary monitoring, clocking in or out, excessive layers of permission to do anything, and a palpable lack of concern for how such practices are perceived by the very people you’ve hired to help your business thrive.


And while some jobs require some of these tools as part of their QA, the approach taken in their use can make a world of difference.


In almost every vertical, you can spot micromanaging companies a mile away. They’re the ones who’ve always got an ad going to fill certain positions, so much so you’d think it was a revolving door kind of operation. Their pay is paltry, as is their expectation for employee tenure. It’s a sad state of affairs for businesses like this, and can end up costing them thousands, if not millions, in lost revenue over time.


So, how do you go about avoiding, or fixing, the problem of micromanaging?


There are certain principles I’ve come to believe in along the journey of being a business owner, and so far, have proven to be a far better strategy than cultivating a non-culture (and hostile work environment) of bitterness and dissatisfaction, leading to high turnover rates:


  1. Hire the best. This may seem like a no-brainer, but many companies don’t vet their job candidates well enough before hiring. Take the time to do your due diligence – make sure you are hiring the best talent you can afford, ones with the skills you need and the positive personalities to enhance your company culture. Even if someone has killer skills, if you can’t trust them or they seem unlikable, why hire them in the first place?



  1. Insist on “servant leadership.” When hiring managers, make sure they concur with a “team” mentality and understand that true leadership means bringing out the best in others, not policing individuals. If work performance becomes an issue, have a tiered plan in place to correct it.



  1. Empower people. Through proper delegation, you’ll free up more of your resources and inspire trust with those people upon whom your success depends. Studies consistently show that people who feel trusted work longer and harder than those who feel undervalued.



  1. Establish common sense metrics. While things like punctuality are important, recording when your employee officially has their “butt in their seat” is not the most effective way to measure success. With your leadership team, provide clear standards of productivity that are reasonable and reachable. Review these periodically and have your managers use them as markers for individual and departmental efficacy.



  1. Be a human. Companies are just a bunch of people who come together to achieve a common goal – the financial and brand success of your business. At the end of the day, though, we are all just flawed humans who fail occasionally. While business needs should come first organizationally, people come first individually. Forgive mistakes (because they will happen) and move on. Focus on desired future behavior, not past transgressions, as encouraged by top training programs like Manager Tools.


It’s a pretty simple strategy, really. Give the best and you’ll tend to get the best. The most successful entrepreneurs understand that climbing the ladder only works if every member of your team is giving you a leg up – one rung, and one person, at a time.

Allen Baler is a leading entrepreneur and Harvard grad. Allen Baler is a Partner in 4Patriots LLC, based in Nashville.

Disclaimer: This blog post is not a substitute for the sound advice of a business professional with expertise in the subject matter discussed. Please seek appropriate counsel on what strategies make sense for your business.