What Have You Got Against Micromanaging?

There are specific posts I’m reluctant to post, especially in times where we’re in recruitment mode. I wrote about this subject in a previous post called “Thoughts About ‘learn to release’ and why it’s bad advice” about a year ago. After posting it, I received countless comments from CEOs and executives who dared to ‘come out’ and admit that they are also micromanagers and believe it’s a positive tactic.

The common assumption in the startup space is that the ideal manager focuses on the bigger picture (road map, budgets, funding rounds, and recruiting key employees), while their reports have zero influence over any of those ‘key’ decisions. Managers deal with the high-level stuff and staff with the day-to-day tasks. Crossing these lines is not advisable. So, for instance, if an executive meddles with content changes, image placement, or email title—it’s considered wrong. Why? Both because it’s a waste of their precious time and because it’s the staff’s territory.

I believe that whenever we’re creating something, parallel processes are taking place – from the most high-level aspect to the most trivial item. Let’s look at another profession that combines building, creating, and managing – a film director. No one blames a director for picking on the smallest detail in the frame and ‘micromanages’ his crew until it’s fixed, right? What I mean is, there’s a common thread throughout each and every scale. The precise copy sent to all users in an automatic mailer is just as crucial to the business as annual budgeting. Each time I’ butt in’ with remarks on an inaccurate word, missing pixels, incorrect measuring logic, presentation design, etc., I still feel guilty.
Nonetheless, I do it quite often. Whenever the guilt crips in, I still wonder why. I haven’t found a good answer yet.

I’m in the details, not because my team is doing a lousy job. I genuinely believe that it’s a part of my job as a CEO who leads the product and marketing and connects the dots. I’m the person who ensures that the smallest (the teeny-tiniest) scale is in sync with the bigger picture. Micromanagement has always been associated with overbearing bosses who manage useless people. But I see it the opposite way – when I’m involved in the details, I can better reflect the bigger picture and the strong link between the company’s parts. To a large extent, it dismantles the old-school differentiation between what a manager should focus on and what his employees do. By delving into the bits and bytes, anyone can better understand the large scale and be more involved.

So let’s address the ‘small detail’ for a minute. Their impact is immense; user experience, each website page, how you measure, what your customers read. To a great degree, micromanaging is a respectful, inspirative way to manage a team. A manager or CEO only looks into the details because they are essential. Granted, not every asset is important, and it’s easier to tinker with insignificant matters than to solve the crucial issues. But significant decisions are not necessarily ‘big’ or ‘small.’

Over the years, I (happily) discovered that most managers I really appreciate also dig into every detail.

And how do the team members react? I’ll be honest, sometimes it goes well, and other times… well, it’s less welcomed. I think the main problem is not that we see things differently but rather a cultural gap. Many iterations/comments or drill-downs on the part of a manager are perceived by many as an indication that their work is not good enough. That’s very unfortunate.
In most cases, the team members lay an excellent foundation (much better than I could ever produce). I just review, add my pointers, adapt it to the company’s long-term targets and values, and connect them to the entire flow. When I deep-dive, it also means that we’re creating something that affects the core of the business.

I hope that more managers and their direct reports start seeing micromanagement and macro-management as two equally constructive styles (and understand how similar they actually are).