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  • #990
    Marc Alderding

    As a leader in business you need to have your finger on the pulse. Does this mean you should literally ‘have your finger on the pulse’ or alternatively be constantly micro-managing multiple levels of your company’s performance regardless of the specific risks and opportunities.

    Some years ago, during a performance review with a member of my team, I was wrapping up the conversation and I asked, “is there any feedback you would like to give to me, as your manager, that may help you into the future?” My team member answered with “well –  you seem to be micro-managing me…”. This was good feedback since I had undoubtedly been micro-managing this one person who was a relatively new team member with unproven ability or limited experience.  I confirmed that due to my perception of the risks, I was watching very closely and keeping track of all the activity and progress. I also confirmed conversely that I applied minimal time to observe the activities of other team members, team members that had already built credibility and proven ability to achieve consistent high-performance results. I made no apology for ‘micro-managing’ to support this person’s development and future success. I even went on to verbally thank this person for noticing my close observations. After this, we went on to build a good working relationship and there were no ongoing manager-employee issues. Over time this person became one of the high-performing team members who could be given progressively more space to confidently get on with their job.

    Reflecting on this experience, a question came to my mind – does this approach, micro-managing in some situations and not doing that in others, apply to managing business performance too?

    Today, I deal mostly with managing or teaching Business Strategy and how to strive for Commercial Excellence.  I recommend the same micro-management principles to business performance. In applying the same methodology to managing business, I ask “why are some managers so obsessed with micro-managing ALL their business components and why do they routinely ask for detailed item level analysis or customer by customer performance results?”  Whether we are managing people or financial results, we need better application of high level dashboards to identify the segments within our responsibility that are consistent high performers. For these high performers, we can provide high level guidance and use performance criteria to enhance the long-term results that will continue to be tracked in a consolidated ‘macro’ approach. On the other hand, effective use of our dashboards will highlight the sub-optimal trends of some under performers; only then should we delve into the detail and ask the specific questions that will put this person or business segment under the microscope.

    Micro-management, when used effectively, can enhance the business results and employee satisfaction and motivation. However, we should be inclined to routinely ‘have our finger on the pulse’ and only go into further diagnostics when there is reason to do so.

    What is your experience with micro-management?

    Did you ever feel the pressure of your manager over your shoulder? And now as you reflect on that situation, do you believe that your manager was making bad choices as a ‘micro-manager’ or good choices with an effective management style?

    Do you make the decision to focus on high level key performance criteria, that highlight the business opportunities and/or gaps, or are you choosing to sift through layers of performance detail, what is the best way forward to managing business proficiently?


    Micro-Management: When and How?

    The post highlights important angles into the issue of micro-management. In practice, I think the decision to micro-manage is generally a function of a person’s leadership style and comfort level with the unit of analysis (individual or business). Viewed through this limited lens, one can envisage various combinations, such as a manager/leader being a micro-manager in terms of “natural” style, and paying more – or less – attention to the individual/businesses that s/he is comfortable with, and also the other way round. It is likely, particularly in today’s fast changing times, that course-corrections coming out of micro-management process reflect the difficulties and/or failure to outline the expectations or workable goal in the first place, and a “correction” is actually a clarity that emerges once a work is initiated. If it is understood in these terms, micro-managing could actually be a good thing in high stake situations/projects for both sides. In practical terms, experienced managers usually get more involved in high-risk/stakes projects even if they are comfortable with their report, or when there is a new person in the role (new hire, new promotion or job rotation). A manager may have a default style as to how much to micro-manage in general, but could use “System 2” 1 thinking to make a decision afresh depending on the context.

    I think micro-management should also be analyzed in the context of another closely related concept -being a hands-on manager/hands-off manager. I look at micro-management as a “frequent checking and advising on the work”, while being hands-on as being involved and not looking at any issue as being too routine/operational or any employee level as too junior to pay attention to. Hands-on managers realize that early operational failures could be indicative of some strategic flaw in organization somewhere, and are able to see these connections. Being hands-on is a general leadership idea, and possibly but not necessarily include micro-management.

    While there are similarities in terms of general ideas to consider while micro-managing a person or business, there are some differences as well. Businesses sometimes perform well, even if the organizational processes do not, because of external factors, such as booming economy or simply because customers do not have much choice. A somewhat counter-intuitive approach is to spend reasonable time to understand well performing businesses to ensure that “quality of success” is robust and within manageable risk appetite. As Sallie Krawcheck argued in her article “Four Ways to Fix Banks” in Harvard Business Review, “Most board members will tell you that their meetings are spent on governance issues, business updates, and “problem children,” with well-performing business segments given an affectionate nod. This should be reversed.” 2.

    Like the decision to micro-manage individuals, the decision to “micro-manage” a business depends on the context, and performance metrics are only one component of it. The businesses which have high resources (capital, number of employees, etc), high risk (customer dis-satisfaction, economic, regulatory, or repeated operational failures), or capabilities (innovation, customer service) should have management time invested regardless of “performance”, as performance outcomes (particularly when expressed as ratios and/or matrices) shed only limited light on the health of underlying processes and capabilities.


    1. Kahneman, Daniel (2012). Thinking, Fast and Slow. London: Penguin.
    2. Krawcheck, Sallie, “Four Ways to Fix Banks”, June 2012, <; (accessed 24th August 2018)

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