Work environments are a lot like alien worlds. There are many things they share in common, such as a company mission statement, executives, managers, supervisors, and employees. Some seem to support a great work environments while others are cut throat and ruthless to their employees. Some have crazy rules like, “Don’t ask your supervisor, fill out a form” while others seem to have no rules at all. In essence, these work environments can be split into two leadership styles; Micromanagement and Macromanagement.
You’ve most likely heard of this before and have your own feelings about it. The term Micromanager comes with a certain negative stigma and is often used when your boss seems a little nosy. But what is Micromanagement in a term that regular people can understand.
If you are in leadership you may have heard of the forest analogy before. I would give credit where credit is due on this analogy, but it’s so commonly used that I struggle to find its origins. Imagine that your entire business is a forest. Each of the employees is like a tree. A tree by itself is not a forest and a forest without trees is dead, much like a business. These trees have several functions, like preventing erosion, producing oxygen, and other neat and important things. As a group they really get the job done and provide a huge service to the entire planet.
Let’s says as a manager, you were given the responsibility to take care of the forest. A manager who looks at the forest one tree at a time is called a Micromanager. He’s looking at the lowest level of performance and trying to improve that. Having your manager single you out and review every bit of your performance can have two very different affects. The first is an employee feeling smothered and afraid. Is my boss looking for something wrong? The other affect would be for an employee to feel supported and confident.
The advantages to Micromanagement is that during periods of poor performance a manager can be more in tune with the day to day operations of the business. It will allow them to make faster decisions and tweak performance at its source. The disadvantage is that you most often create a negative work environment or dependent employees who can’t function on their own. You also lose how effective you can be by focusing on little problems instead of the bigger picture.
Let’s go back to the forest analogy. A Macromanager sits in a giant tree far above the tree’s and makes sure the forest looks good. They make sure rain comes and the sun shines, but they never really check to see if each tree is getting enough of both. Their concern is that as long as the forest looks fine it really doesn’t matter what happens to the individual trees.
Most often we think of our CEO and executives as a Macromanager. Executives are Macromanagers, but they are not the only leaders guilty of this. Anyone with a leadership role can be both cursed and blessed by the Macromanagement style. The definite advantage is keeping the big picture in mind. The Macromanager does not make poor decisions that benefit the tree level but could negatively affect the entire forest. On the other hand, if the forest is suffering it’s difficult to pinpoint a specific function that is leading to the forest turning sour.
The affects on the employee is feeling either unsupported and given no direction or feeling empowered and having the freedom to make the right decisions. Most often employees lean toward unsupported. They hate feeling like management doesn’t look at what they do and only cares about the business as a whole.
Which is better:
The best answer is neither. While both have their bonuses, neither can by themselves be expected to maintain a business or work environment for a long period of time. But there are roles that seem to be suited toward one style or the other. For this I will use a call center environment.
Your support roles, such as technical support and billing support, are most often micro managed. Calls are recorded, monitored, graded, and checked for compliance. Every step of the way is measured and coached on. This is important to create a consistent feel for each customer who calls in. In a support role it is difficult to measure the impact on overall revenue that is retained by having these roles. Since they don’t generate new revenue, it is important to ensure the money being spent on these environments is both efficient and practical.
Your acquisition roles, such as sales and customer retention, are better being macro managed. Sales is about influence and creativity. Since influence cannot easily be measured, giving specific functions that each sales agent must do will only hurt their chances to gain or retain more customers. At the great distress of your support roles, sales roles cannot spend time going over all the things that will happen wrong or else they lose the sale. When managing a sales group it should come down to bottom line revenue growth. But don’t be fooled, there are some micro management metrics built in such as quota.
I have seen how management styles on both sides of this fence help and hurt a business. The best leaders are ones who can embrace both sides of this management style. Without a bigger picture view your support roles can start to think the company they work for doesn’t function correctly at all. Without a smaller picture view, acquisition roles will make unethical choices and cause huge support failures. Learn to include or ask for a little of both in the environment you work in.