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  • in reply to: Micro-Management: When and How? #2225

    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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