Modern entrepreneurs and managers of growing companies have long boasted about the benefits of a flat, lean organization. Surrounding themselves with smart, motivated colleagues allows the boss to focus on the big picture -- the cohort accomplishes more because the boss doesn't have to help with the details and micromanage. This leadership style is welcomed by the team, who appreciate the respect and trust of the leader -- and appreciation manifests itself in even higher job satisfaction and productivity.
But in the December 2009 / January 2010 issue of Inc magazine Joel Spolsky makes a case for why entrepreneurs need to keep the ability to sometimes micromanage in their leadership toolkits. In his How Hard Could it Be column, Spolsky's article When and How to Micromanage sums up the recognition for micromanagement like this:
"At the top of every company, there's at least one person who really cares and really wants the product and the customer experience to be great. That's (the entrepreneur and close staff). Below that person, there are layers of people, many of whom are equally dedicated and equally talented. But at some point as you work your way through an organization, you find pockets of people who don't care that much. For them, it's a job. They just want to get through the day and don't find (less-than-awesome performance) upsetting. If you're lucky, none of those people are employed by your company. But the minute you begin to rely on outside vendors, you expose yourself to their people, some of whom inevitably just won't care enough or know enough or have the right skills to deliver the awesome experience you're trying to deliver."
So -- sometimes the most motivated for results have to get into the gritty details and help the team work out the issues. Handing out objectives ("Get the phones hooked up by Thursday...or else") is probably not as effective as helping the team with the details of building a process and/or checklist (determine the number of phones, select system, schedule service provider, etc.) -- especially if the task is complex and you really want to get it done right. Applied strategically with planning and care, micromanagement is a powerful leadership tool.