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Why Micromanaging is NEVER a Good Idea

The curse of micromanagement is alive and well, and where you least expect it…

othing manages to capture the sheer pointlessness of micromanagement like the Dilbert comic strips, but it’s not something that’s confined to clueless middle-managers. Startups, as it turns out, are just as vulnerable to this productivity leech as traditional corporations.

CEOs at hip technology startups can be some of the worst offenders when it comes to over-managing and under-supporting their staff, specially if they happen to be control freaks.

Startup founders often have strong personalities, and that comes with the wish to control everything around them. If properly channeled, that strength and nervous energy can be used to grow the business in challenging circumstances.

Where it gets tricky, however, is when -often in the space of a few short months- people find themselves in a situation where a startup grows from “you and a couple of mates” to a proper company employing dozens of professionals. This is often the case in the high-growth technology sector, and in those circumstances, old habits die hard. You go from a situation where you’re doing everything yourself to having to learn to delegate, and the transition can be a hard one.

Learning to delegate can be a challenge for startup founders, specially if they have a tendency to be control freaks

But as much as it can feel like a cheat, a good CEO will consciously make that transition, and make it fast. Startups depend entirely upon the talent they manage to attract, and it’s an extremely competitive market out there. So if you’re lucky enough to hire a senior person for a key position in your company, you MUST trust that person, and empower them to deliver on the set objectives.

The itch to stick your oar in should be strongly resisted

This doesn’t mean that senior managers don’t have significant input, quite the contrary, in fact. They should take the time to align with your team on strategy, be realistic and honest about the resources available, and then get on with their own jobs, supporting and coordinating the team as they work towards those shared goals. And every time they feel the itch to stick their oar in too much, they should ruthlessly remind themselves of why it’s such a bad idea:

It’s time consuming

Do you really have time to look over everyone’s shoulders and second-guess how they do their job? Chances are, if you’re doing that you’re neglecting your own job, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day, specially in a busy startup.

It’s demoralizing

It takes a lot of energy to keep a startup going, and enthusing your team is arguably a Founder’s most important job. In contrast, the quickest way to sap someone’s energy and motivation is to show your lack of confidence in them. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you don’t trust your employees to deliver, they’ll meet your expectations.

It’s inefficient

Micromanaging senior staff is the quickest and surest way to waste your company resources. If you’ve gone through the considerable trouble and expense of securing a key hire, but then proceed to treat them like a junior person — ie. not giving them appropriate resources and autonomy — you will quickly lose them as they realise their gamble on you hasn’t paid off.

Written by

Technology writer for FastCo, Quartz, The Next Web, Ars Technica, Wired + more. Consultant specializing in VR #MixedReality and Strategic Communications

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