The self-defeating effects of micro-management

I started drafting a blog post about the self-defeating effects of micro-management when I came across this interview response (from Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz) which sums it up perfectly:

What classic mistakes do you see managers making over and over?

“Setting a goal is one thing. Telling people how to do it step-by-step is another thing. That’s what happens especially with new managers. They not only tell the result that’s supposed to happen but they also tell them how to do it, which is such an insult. People just friggin’ shut down–I guess I’m not going to do it well enough. I’ll just wait to have you tell me how to do it.”

(via Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz: “I’m Just a Manager”.)

I’ve seen teams “shut down” for this exact reason, and the result is a loss for everyone.

When faced with continual “managerial vetoes” and micro-management, teams stop delivering the value they are capable of. They no longer seek the best solutions — they no longer listen to their customers. By not delegating and trusting their team, these managers have created more work for themselves! And the odds are pretty good that whatever comes out of this process will be sub-par.

The idea raises an interesting perspective on the evaluation of new products and services: If the solution is sub-par, was it for lack of ability on the part of the implementation team? Or was it lack of ability on the part of their management?


On a related note, I highly recommend
The Effective Executive” by Peter Drucker if you happen to be new to management (or, in this case, have under-performing teams.) “Reflections on Management: How to Manage Your Software Projects, Your Teams, Your Boss, and Yourself” by Watts Humphrey has some nice views on this issue as well.

Great quote on the value of being a good client

“Clients who are easy to work with … don’t just get our best work. They also get the lowest invoices, because we can work efficiently and don’t have to fight our way through the process.”

The article is about working with Graphic Designers, but it applies equally well to technology or strategy engagements.

via “10 Secret Code Phrases to Get What You Want from Your Graphic Designer“.

“FORTUNE: How I Work”

FORTUNE: How I Work” isn’t a new piece, but I’ve gone back to it a few times, so I thought I’d share the link and a some thoughts on it.

The article interviews twelve successful, industry leaders on how they work and what they do to manage their workload. The common themes are that they all tend to work 12+ hour days (and generally weekends); They cut out the noise and distractions; Focus on what’s important; leverage their staff; and spend a large amount of their time emailing or calling people. That’s a pretty good reflection of what Peter Drucker describes in the book, “The Effective Executive“, which is perhaps why it’s so interesting to hear first-hand.

I pulled a few quotes, but left off the names so you’ll have to read the article to find out who said these:

On working hours:

  • “I get up about 4:30 A.M. and check out the markets. “
  • “I get up between 5 and 5:30”
  • “I wake up somewhere between 5 and 6 A.M.”
  • “My day starts around 9 A.M. and meetings finish up around 8 P.M. After that I stay in the office to do action items and e-mail. I can get by on four to six hours of sleep.”
  • “I try to get home by 7:30 P.M.”
  • “…head off to work about 5:45 A.M.”
  • “I do marathon e-mail catch-up sessions, sometimes on a Saturday or Sunday. I’ll just sit down and do e-mail for ten to 14 hours straight.”
  • “I usually go home after lunch and then spend the rest of the afternoon and evening, except for dinner, up till about 11:30 p.m., working.”
  • “If I don’t do six hours of sleep I’m in bad shape, but I’m usually up by six.”
  • “I typically don’t sign off e-mail until midnight.”
  • “My day usually ends in the office at about six o’clock, but then I go to two or three parties a night… Then, no matter when I get home at night — and it’s usually late — I do at least an hour or two of e-mail.”
  • “I’m asleep at 10. I’m up at 5:30 and try to work out four or five times a week.”

On allocating time:

  • “For meetings on a single topic that aren’t regular operational meetings, I’m very strict. The maximum is one hour and 30 minutes. Fifty percent of the time is for the presentation, 50 percent is for discussion.”
  • “If I have a business dinner, people know that it should start at 6:30 and be over by 8:30. “

On leveraging staff:

  • “I have two assistants now. I have an assistant from 7 in the morning till 4 in the afternoon, and then an assistant from 4 to midnight.”
  • “I rely on staff to take care of things that I know they can.”

On focus and resetting oneself:

  • “Every day at 8:30 A.M., I get up from my desk and walk to a health club across the street. I do yoga and work out for probably an hour and a half…”
  • “Some of my best ideas literally come from standing on my head doing yoga. I’m away from the office, away from the noise…”
  • “I don’t have a cellphone, I don’t have a Black-Berry.”
  • “It is also important to take a distance from the problem. I do not bring my work home.”
  • “I find that meditating for five, ten, or 15 minutes in a hotel room at night can be as good as a workout”
  • “I still work weekends, though not the killer hours I used to.”

Any shape or size…

“when an object can be any shape or size, what shape or size should it be?”

I love following Jan Chipchase’s Future Perfect blog. It documents an amazing level of ethnographic research that most companies simply don’t have the luxury to participate in. The quote above is a closing slide in one of his presentations. It stuck me because of it’s dual use as both a design meditation, and a serious question designers of any product should be able to answer. It also begs the reverse question for existing design:

If this object could have been any shape or size, why did it end up like this?

(Via: Insight & Innovation: Design Research, Nokia Connection 2007 [ppt])