Operational Efficiency: How Delegating Accountability Drives Improvement
The issue of business management style is one of the most important dilemmas business leaders in any organization or industry will face. Without a proper understanding of the essential and often changing dynamics of business leadership, many managers struggle with operational efficiency. Consequently, their employees and organizations are marked by frustration, poor morale and low productivity.
This issue is far more common than you might assume. Leadership and business strategist and “Essentialism” author Greg McKeown studied 1,000 managers in 100 leading companies, including Microsoft, Apple, HP and IBM. One of his areas of focus was understanding the problems with ineffective management styles.
Half of the individuals who participated in the study discussed ineffective bosses who were over-involved and controlling. These are of course, cases of classic micromanagement — bosses who are involved in virtually every detail of everyone’s work, attempting to control every process and outcome.
The other half described ineffective managers as “nice, but weak.” Or, in other words, their most frustrating bosses were likable but prone to under-management relative to the group’s needs. This more hands-off approach is often described using the term “macromanagement,” though as we’ll see, a more effective version of this style can be decidedly more effective.
Discerning the best ways to lead and improve operational efficiency requires a keen understanding of both management styles. Adding advanced training and education in management, leadership and specialized areas of business is also key to an effective career as a business leader.
What Are Micromanagement and Macromanagement?
Debates over the best style of management are as old as the concept of management itself. Both micromanagement and macromanagement have benefits and drawbacks, and both have proponents and critics. Let’s examine the essence of each style, including what effective leaders can learn from each to improve operational efficiency.
What is Micromanagement?
Merriam-Webster defines “micromanage” in the simplest of terms: “to manage especially with excessive control or attention to details.”
As both definitions make clear, micromanagement is an approach to management featuring more direct involvement by the manager in the details of employees’ day-to-day work.
Bizfluent puts it this way:
“As the ‘micro’ prefix suggests, micromanagers worry about the small stuff. A micromanager doesn't simply set a deadline and expect the employee to meet it. They detail every step that has to be taken to meet the deadline and check back regularly to see how the employee is progressing.”
Micromanagement also can tend to cross boundaries from direct work oversight into uncomfortable spaces like monitoring how much time employees spend on breaks or visiting with coworkers. Employees who work under these conditions often describe feeling like every move and decision they make is being watched and scrutinized.
What is Macromanagement?
The term “macromanagement” hasn’t quite taken hold in the common vernacular, in part because it is a more recent way of describing alternatives to micromanagement styles.
Investopedia describes macromanagement this way:
“A macro manager is a type of boss or supervisor who takes a more hands-off approach and lets employees do their jobs with minimal direct supervision. This style of leadership is referred to as macromanagement. Macro managers can be thought of by some employees as supervisors who do not give them enough support or feedback to do their jobs effectively, while others may be glad to be trusted and left alone. A macro manager is the opposite of a micromanager, a supervisor who constantly looks over employees' shoulders and is often perceived as controlling and overly critical.”
As that description indicates, macromanagement is often offered as an antidote to the weaknesses of micromanagement. However, this approach has its own potential drawbacks when not administered well.
What are the Potential Benefits of Micromanagement?
The prevalence of micromanagement among business leaders is not without cause. Many managers are convinced, either by their own bias or by experience, a more hands-on approach is the key to operational efficiency in their settings.
Vistage, one of the world’s leading executive coaching groups, points out a few advantages found among business leaders who adopt this approach:
- They are not above performing any task. This means they’re not aloof or removed from the team’s work, even in handling difficult, small details or challenges.
- Smaller teams often work well under a determined micromanager, more quickly equipping new employees and making more complicated tasks simpler.
- Micromanagement often gives employees more clearly defined roles and responsibilities, which can help clarify an employee’s purpose and connect them to the overall mission.
Vistage cites the example of SpaceX leader Elon Musk, notorious for his hands-on style, to demonstrate the last point. SpaceX engineer Kevin Brogan describes it this way: “‘Elon says, 'I need the impossible done by Friday at 2 p.m. Can you do it?' Then, when you say yes, you are not working hard because he told you. You're working hard for yourself.”
There are particular situations in which micromanagement is a helpful way to address particular business challenges.
Micromanagement is often helpful in a training capacity. As new employees learn the nature of their roles, the specific tasks they’ll be performing and the culture of the organization, more direct oversight can not only be appropriate, but helpful.
Dealing with struggling or low performing employees also sometimes requires a form of micromanagement. Effective managers will know when to offer more directed attention in order to either help these employees improve or find a role suiting them better.
As we’ll find, these are skills every effective business leader should possess. However, micromanagement is likely best embraced as an adaptable skill rather than an overall management philosophy.
What are the Potential Drawbacks of Micromanagement?
In truth, micromanagement continues to be extremely common. In fact, in one recent study, 79% of employees indicated they’ve been micromanaged. Despite the tendency of many managers to default to holding the reins too tightly, evidence continues to mount this is not effective for a healthy or successful business.
The long list of negative outcomes from micromanagement includes:
- Managers tend to lose track of the bigger picture when too focused on minutiae of projects and employees’ time.
- Managers become focused on perfection in all details and are unable to utilize empowering leadership methods.
- Managers waste time on excessive, unnecessary meetings and reports.
- Micromanagers typically do not trust their staff or employees, violating a crucial foundation to working relationships in ways very difficult to repair.
- The lack of trust created makes employees feel unsettled, unsafe and unsupported, which leads to a survival mentality rather than the freedom to thrive so crucial to operational efficiency.
- Micromanagement creates management-employee dynamics that frustrate employees and cause burnout for managers.
- Employees perceive they are being constantly watched and criticized.
- Employees feel stressed by the intense control exerted by managers.
- Employees become dependent on a boss’s instruction and cannot work well independently.
- A loss of freedom to innovate or use one’s best judgment damages employee motivation and buy-in.
- Micromanagement typically stifles creativity and limits productivity, recipes for reduced operational efficiency.
- Low employee morale and frustration often leads to high employee turnover.
- An inability to delegate well can cause stress and burnout among managers.
When employed as a general approach to management, micromanagement is fraught with pitfalls and rarely effective. Even those prone to these tendencies are likely to acknowledge they want to learn a healthier way to maximize productivity and still create a healthy culture where employees feel trusted and empowered.
Symptoms of a Micromanagement Environment
As we noted before, the majority of employees report having been micromanaged at some point in their careers. However, managers are often unaware they are guilty of micromanaging in a detrimental way. In fact, in the same study, 91% of managers were unaware employees had changed jobs due to the managers’ micromanaging tendencies.
So how do you recognize problematic micromanagement? Productivity experts Weekdone offer a simple list of symptoms of micromanagement.
They indicate micromanagers tend to:
- Avoid delegation
- Be control-obsessed
- Dictate everything
- Inundate the organization with too many detailed reports
- Be too preoccupied with details
- Discourage independent decision-making
Brigette Hyacinth, a leadership expert and author of “Leading the Workforce of the Future,” notes an organization being led ineffectively by micromanagers will often show the following 5 damaging symptoms:
- Decreased Productivity
- Reduced Innovation
- Lower Morale
- High Staff Turnover
- Loss of Trust
Again, no one chooses to lead an organization in this direction. Most micromanagers are simply doing everything in their power to improve operational efficiency and ensure the success of their business. However, even the most well-intentioned of managers and organizations can easily fall into the trap of micromanaging and find themselves in need of a better way.
What are the Potential Benefits of Macromanagement?
Emerging as an obvious alternative to micromanagement, macromanagement offers a number of benefits that curb the drawbacks of intense employee oversight and scrutiny. We’ll expound on the reasons why delegating well helps improve operational efficiency in more specific ways in a moment, but in summary, macromanagement:
- Empowers employees, which produces more buy-in and personal investment in the organizational culture and goals
- Improves employee confidence
- Inspires employees to go above and beyond for employers and serve customers more generously
- Enables and inspires creativity, innovation and better ideas, all of which benefit the organization and help improve operational efficiency
- Helps develop and retain talented employees, a difference which is often crucial to the success or failure of a business
- Creates a healthy, productive employee culture that self-replicates, as new employees learn from existing staff to maximize their skills and thrive
- Enables employees to do what they were hired to do, which both makes them happier and helps management produce better results
Executed properly, macromanagement takes a wider view of business success. Instead of assuming productivity is the result of a manager ensuring every detail is executed perfectly, macromanagers offer sound leadership, cultivate a talented staff and give them room to thrive.
What are the Potential Drawbacks of Macromanagement?
Of course, no strategy is perfect, and macromanagement carries with it tendencies and risks that can be troublesome if not given proper attention. Most of those fall under an extreme version of macromanagement erring on the side of too little attention given to mission or staff.
Some of the particular risks and weaknesses of under-management include:
- Vague expectations for employees
- Lack of clear goals or motivation
- Neglect of employees who need direction or development
- Absence of a clear leader to help guide talented employees toward a coherent vision or purpose
- Employees who don’t clearly understand their roles
- Staff conflicts due to competing objectives with no guidance for resolving the disagreements.
- Insufficient accountability and feedback to employees, both of which are necessary to improve operational efficiency and overall results
- Product or project results that aren’t in line with the overall vision due to poor communication or guidance along the way
- Managers who are out of touch with their employees and unable to solve problems because of lack of familiarity or understanding
- Employees who lose interest because they perceive managers are also disengaged and uninterested
Greg McKeown observes the fatal flaw of those who embrace an undisciplined, poorly executed version of macromanagement:
“These nice, but somewhat absentee managers can continue to survive, unchecked for decades. At least a controlling boss who yells all the time gets noticed: they create acute pain and people complain. In contrast, the pain these nice ‘Neutralizers’ produce is chronic. The pain is inflicted slowly, drip by drip.”
Effective Delegation and Leadership for Operational Efficiency
Of course, no management philosophy is perfect. Any manager must bring a range of understanding and skills to any management environment. However, a manager who can effectively delegate and prioritize healthy leadership will be well on the way to better operational efficiency and a healthier business culture.
Effective Delegation Is the Key to Operational Efficiency
What if a manager could find a way to make the best use of her time and of her employees’ time? That, after all, is the goal of all management approaches, intentional and otherwise. The key to that kind of leadership is effective delegation.
Legendary Apple founder Steve Jobs summed up the genius of delegating well:
“It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
Brigette Hyacinth puts some form to that philosophy:
“A manager's job is to provide guidance and support. It's facilitating a healthy environment where employees can perform at their best. Always be quick to recognize, appreciate and reward employees' efforts.”
Delegation enables an organization to maximize its strengths in tapping into the endless well of employee talent under the guidance of a clear-headed leader articulating and coordinating a coherent mission.
How Does Effective Delegation Happen?
Delegation is more than simply spreading out the workload or making sure everyone has a part to play. The goal, remember, is to improve operational efficiency in a healthy work environment. That requires understanding, strategy and skill.
Janet Britcher, an expert in organizational transformation and effectiveness, outlines eight helpful steps to move from micromanagement to effective, efficient leadership through delegation.
- Set clear expectations.
- Establish clear milestones, weekly or bi-weekly.
- Allow for open inquiry.
- Express appreciation for progress.
- Discuss unanticipated obstacles.
- Clearly define resources and/or project scope.
- Tweak outcomes as constraints become visible.
- Support managers as they hold their own staff accountable.
Every context will require some adaptation, but these basic, principled steps offer a reliable blueprint for managers to support a thriving professional environment and move an organization toward fulfilling its mission.
Effective Delegation Requires Healthy Leadership
The shift from micromanagement to effective delegation requires managers to transform their roles from always doing to primarily leading. Veteran executive and management guru Andre Lavoie identifies five key differences between micromanagers and effective, delegating leaders
1. Leaders Facilitate, Micromanagers Hover
We’ve already discussed the problems with hovering. The alternative is facilitating, which means planning, guiding and managing so employees themselves can work toward the organization’s objectives.
2. Leaders Give Context, Micromanagers Dictate
Employees often don’t understand how their work is connected or contributing to the big picture. Giving context increases motivation, engagement and quality of work. This, in turn, gives the employee more ownership and pride in the overall mission.
3. Leaders Instill Accountability, Micromanagers Control
Operational efficiency requires employees understand why their role matters and accept responsibility for doing their part. Hire capable people with an innate sense of responsibility, then allow and encourage them to own their piece of the overall mission.
4. Leaders Delegate, Micromanagers Create Bottlenecks
The tendency toward micromanagement often stifles creativity and operational efficiency by bogging down every project on a manager’s desk. It’s simply not realistic to expect one person would be able to touch everything and not be a drag on overall effectiveness. Leaders learn to strategize well and trust employees within a well-developed plan.
5. Leaders Inspire, Micromanagers Create Stress
Micromanagers often turn employees’ attention only to performing the exact tasks demanded by a looming boss. Leaders encourage independence and problem-solving. This also inspires employees to think beyond the minimum completion of tasks and do everything possible to help the organization fulfill its mission.
Effective leaders develop faith in their own ability to chart a course for the organization and in their employees’ ability to join and fulfill the mission. That kind of leadership requires both a foundation of knowledge and skills and a willingness and opportunity to learn and grow in an ongoing way.
Healthy Leaders Must be Cultivated
In the conversation about effective management strategy, most of the attention is paid to productivity and operational efficiency. However, the truth is managers suffer from ineffective management as much as employees and organizations do. James Harter, Gallop’s Chief Scientist of Workplace and Well-Being, summarizes this reality in The Harvard Business Review:
“Too often, the very managers upon whom organizations depend to create better cultures are themselves unhappy and unmotivated at work. Management really isn’t a great experience for most people; managers report more stress and burnout, worse work-life balance and worse physical well-being than the individual contributors on the teams they lead. Approximately two-thirds of managers are either not engaged or actively disengaged in their work and workplace. Less than 30% of managers strongly agree that someone at work encourages their development. According to the people receiving manager development training, the programs in place don’t work.”
This highlights two key problems:
- Most managers are not thriving and need to find a better way to work.
- Most in-house training to develop better managers and leaders is not working.
This makes the right kind of preparation for managers essential. It is crucial for those interested in growing into effective managers and leaders to find a program that prepares women and men to be healthy leaders, capable of growth and change.
How an MBA Equips You for a Thriving Future in Management
These kinds of holistic approaches to business success and operational efficiency are the focus of the online MBA program at St. Bonaventure. More than another degree, you need dedicated training ineffective management and leadership skills.
The goal of the St. Bonaventure program is multifaceted, designed to help you avoid the pitfalls of micromanagement and thrive as an always-learning leader.
- Advancing Your Skills – Develop the skills that matter to employers and your future: essential business competencies, critical thinking, problem-solving and communication.
- Cultivating Specialized Knowledge – Become proficient in one of the most important areas of business to stand out and enhance your existing expertise.
- Leading More Effectively – Grow your understanding of business operations and the fundamental functions of management to take on more responsibility and improve your leadership potential.
- Improving Decision Making – Understand the interaction among business functions to better assess the full organizational impact of your decisions.
- Employing a Different Way of Thinking – Gain perspective on the big picture to overcome business challenges with a global mindset.
You’ll progressively develop essential business competencies and then can focus in on a specific area—accounting, business analytics, finance or marketing—or continue to follow a general track to enhance your existing expertise. Our curriculum is carefully designed to reflect the real world where business functions interact, helping you cultivate interdisciplinary knowledge.
Take the next step toward a future in effective business leadership today!
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