What Are You Managing?

You've got two choices.

By Anthony Noel

There are as many different reasons for starting a business as there are business owners.

Some take the plunge having had enough of working for someone else. Others do it for the freedom of setting their own schedules. Still others envision financial independence and an early retirement. And there are even those who start their own company just because it feels like the right thing to do.

Why did you start your business? More importantly, what do you want it to achieve? Are you managing it in the manner most likely to produce the results you seek? Have you ever stepped outside of yourself and considered how your management style affects the people you work with?

Pithy questions like these require hard thought. Surprising as it may seem, however, such questions never get on the radar screen of many owners and managers. If you are one of them, there is no shame in it; on a day-in, day-out basis, you likely already have enough on your mind. But giving these important questions some thought could be the best thing you will ever do for your company. And, counterintuitive as it may seem, it might actually free up some RAM in that overworked CPU atop your shoulders.

There is a dysfunction affecting managers everywhere. Much has been said and written about it - it is called "micromanaging," and it has roots in the efficiency-crazed, budget-driven world many of you left behind when you started your own shops. This is not to suggest that efficiency and budget-awareness are bad things. (If you have read this column for any length of time, you know the importance I place on knowing the numbers.)

Still, micromanaging your business has pitfalls you may not recognize unless you have thought long and hard about those questions posed earlier.

"He who does not trust enough will not be trusted." The ancient Chinese recognized this potent peril of standing over the shoulders of one's charges 600 years before Christ. Any manager would do well to recognize that it is still as true today as it was then.

Micromanagers, through their overt oversight, essentially tell employees, "I don't trust you to do this right, so I'm going to watch you like a hawk." A strong secondary message is, "And I'm not going to train you, either." This brings us to the next point.

Micromanaging is NOT training. Micromanagers like to tell themselves it is, but real training teaches people to think for themselves. Micromanaging trains them not to. Thus...

Micromanagers squelch creativity and initiative. Tell someone often enough that they are not doing something right and they will stop trying. Then, you will essentially become their employee, because they will not make a move without consulting you first. Is that really how you want to spend your day? Your week? Your life?

Micromanagers stunt a company's growth. Thinking that no one can do a given task as well as they can, micromanagers seldom, if ever, entrust others with management-level work. And it's pretty hard to take more work in (i.e., grow the company) without delegating key tasks.

If any of this sounds like you, there is good news: Micromanagers are made, not born. You do not have to baby-sit your people to get good work out of them.

Before we look at the alternative, it might help to understand how people fall into the micromanaging trap.

It begins with fear. Fear of losing money. Of losing one's job. Of losing one's livelihood. Of looking inept. Of delivering a bad product. Fear of all of the above, and hundreds of other things.

Many micromanagers learned to micromanage in the world they left to start their own companies. They may have left that world, but they brought their bad management techniques with them.

It is really not their fault. Years of unrealistic profit demands, budget-cutting and meetings about "empowerment" worked their magic (if you want to call it that!). These once-motivated folks became nervous managers who watched every move of those in their charge - because their every move was given equally frantic scrutiny.

Getting your employees going and your business growing begins with letting go of such fanatic Big Brotherism and recognizing it for what it is: Counter-productive.

"But," you protest, "I can't trust my employees to do anything right." Sure you can. You have simply chosen not to. But there is another choice you can make. You can choose instead to look at the big picture.

Start by considering those questions at the top. Then, rather than micromanaging people, try managing things. Things like training programs. Blueprint details. Estimating procedures. Cost accounting procedures. Sales programs.

Establish, test and fine-tune these things, and once you have things that work, train your people to use them. Moreover, encourage them to customize and improve these things, which is another way of saying, "encourage them to take initiative."

Set goals for people - production goals, sales goals, whatever - and be sure they are strongly keyed to that question about what you want the business to achieve. Be very specific, realistic and concrete.

Then, do all you can to make meeting those goals as easy for your people as possible - through equipment, support staff and three other things: training, training, training.

And please, as people prove themselves, reward them financially - unless you want to be at Square One indefinitely.

Begin managing things and stop micromanaging people. You will be amazed by what your people can achieve.

Send Anthony Noel e-mail at [email protected].


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