Is Micromanagement Really Bad?


The mere hearing of the word sends chills down your spine.

You certainly don’t want to be micromanaged, and being labeled a micromanager – well, that can be a career killer.

Just one question: is micromanagement always bad? Hardly.

Full disclosure: like most CEO’s, I have been accused of being a micromanager. I’ve also been accused of being a mushroom manager.

Now, what’s a mushroom manager? (I had to ask my accuser, so don’t feel bad, I had no idea what it meant either)

My accuser: “You feed people shit and expect things to grow.”

I had to stop myself from laughing.

Okay, back to micromanagement. What is it? Wikipedia defines micromanagement as, “A management style whereby a manager closely observes or controls the work of subordinates or employees.”

Close observation and control don’t sound very pleasant, but can there times when you need to micromanage or be micromanaged?


Let me give you an example from my deep, dark past. During the ’90’s, the division I was running won an opportunity to develop a custom IC for one of the world’s largest telecommunications manufacturers. There were three major hurdles we had to overcome:

  1. The timeline was a ridiculously-short five months to deliver working silicon;
  2. We’d never done anything like this before, and the engineering team doubted we could do it; and
  3. To succeed, we would need precise coordination between engineers working on three different continents.

It was a huge, make-or-break opportunity for us, and there was only one way to make sure we succeeded: We needed to have detailed engineering management, down to daily schedules, for each engineer.

In other words, we needed to micromanage.

The result: We ended up presenting working silicon to our customer on the exact day promised. The customer was thrilled.

Years later, when my company was starting, we had a tranche of our initial funding depend upon meeting certain engineering milestones. We micromanaged the engineering projects that we needed to because there was too much at stake not to.

The result: We easily met the terms of the tranche, and we received the additional funding.

Now, you’re saying, “These are extreme circumstances.”

My point precisely.

That’s when micromanagement is necessary: in extreme circumstances.

Don’t be afraid to micromanage when the stakes are really high.

That’s one side, but what are signs you shouldn’t be micromanaging or you are needlessly being micromanaged?

Daily activities are my litmus test. You shouldn’t be micromanaging normal daily activities.

And how do you identify micromanagement? Fifty years ago this month, a Supreme Court Justice named Potter Stewart was trying to define what made a movie “obscene”. He couldn’t come up with a definition, but he did come up with an expression that remains a part of the American lexicon: “I know it when I see it.”

Whether you’re the micromanager or the micromanagee, you know it when you see it.

Young managers are prone to micromanagement. It’s natural: you care so much about what you’re doing, and you haven’t quite learned when to back off and let your people work without constant oversight.

I certainly did too much of it early in my management career. You recognize, as you get older, that management is similar to driving a car: you learn when to step on the gas and when to brake.

Once, we had a sales manager that was really struggling. Now, it didn’t matter to me, as a young manager, that sales didn’t report to me. I had a job to do. I micromanaged the sales manager and still didn’t get what I wanted. Worse yet, I made enemies of more sales people. Not my smartest move. (Have I mentioned that, in business, you learn more from making mistakes than from doing things well?)

Detail-oriented management, or micromanagement, is one of the tools in your tool bag. The key to successful management is using the appropriate tool, gas and braking, at the right time.

The appropriate time to use your micromanagement tool? Extreme circumstances.

That’s all for now,