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Advice from Outside the Square

Stop Micro-managing!

Stop Micro-managing!

I had a meeting with a client yesterday. Amongst other issues we discussed the fact that even as her company grew, she had to continually look over people’s shoulders, tell them not only what to do, but also how to do it in a satisfactory way.

When I asked her what was a “satisfactory way” she explained that it was the way she would have done it, the way her customers had come to expect how her company would do it. She gave me an example where her version of “satisfactory” included a hand-written note to the customer the next day to see if the product met his needs and if she needed to explain any aspect of it to him. In other words quality was not a fixed value but a set of behaviours that had come to represent what the customer wanted. Only, she seemed to be the only one in the growing company who seemed to understand that, despite her experienced (and expensive) new hires.

Readers will tell me this is not uncommon. When you start a small business, often you and your key team members know exactly what to do, and how to “do it satisfactorily” because you probably came across that formula partly by agreeing on a set of values and partly by trial and error as customers reacted to your products and services. As the business grows, that group of key culture-influencers become diluted – either they leave in time, or they become busy performing “higher duties” and are unable to influence the coal-face processes. In time it becomes harder and harder for the growing company to “do it in a satisfactory way”.

There are two factors that these growing companies can adopt. One is fairly simple, prepare and adopt a set system of procedures about how to do things. Take a leaf out of franchise operations. The training a 16 year old kid gets in MacDonalds about how to serve customers, how to cook a hamburger, how to clean the equipment, is broken down into procedures, steps and checklists.

The other factor to adopt is not that easy, and it is about creating a vision that everyone understands, and especially understands what achieving that vision means when you “do it satisfactorily”. It’s about building a strong corporate culture on a common and understood vision and a clear set of corporate values.

I have written about creating an understood vision before, but in this context, if your team understand what the vision means in all circumstances of the business, you no longer need to micro-manage result. A clearly understood vision clarifies a hundred micro-decisions due to the answer to the question “what do I have to do here if I want to adhere to or move us towards achievement of our vision?”

If my client had been able to explain that her company’s vision included a picture of customer service that meant that delivery of the product was not the end of the service but only the beginning of a relationship, and then proceduralised a follow-up after-delivery note, she may have found her new hires adopting that approach and knowing why it was done, and then be happy to do it, again and again.

How it is done is then subject to the company’s values – but that’s a different story! I might write an article about that later!

Over to you – how do you avoid micro-management? Does your company have a set of procedures on key business processes? Are people trained in them, and importantly are they trained about them in relation to the company’s vision and values?

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