The ills of micromanaging

What was needed when your company started, is not a necessity as it grows.

August 8, 2013
Frans Jager

Marty Grunder is an influential voice in the green industry. In the first place he is the founder and owner of Grunder Landscaping in Miamisburg, Ohio. He is also a gifted public speaker, writer and trainer.

He teaches the course for senior executives at Aileron. He is a regular columnist for Lawn & Landscape magazine. In other words he leads a very busy purposeful life. For the June issue of Lawn & Landscape, he wrote a remarkable column titled “Self-Inflicted Pain." In this column he exposed three forms of missing business leadership, admitting – courageously – that he had been guilty of all three shortcomings himself. Marty calls these shortcomings “Bad Leadership."

The three forms of bad leadership he addresses in his column are:
1. Micro-Management
2. Not leading by example
3. Not sharing information

In my tenure in the green industry, I have seen plenty of examples of each of these entrepreneurial shortcomings and I have come away with the impression that these are possibly more the rule than the exception.

I applaud Marty Grunder for pointing his finger at three critical components of management failure and I believe that, for an entrepreneurial business to make it to the next level and live up to its inherent potential, the owner will have to overcome and eradicate all three shortcomings.

Micromanagement is at the core of the problem. A business owner who micromanages is setting the wrong example for everyone else in the business.

He is also likely reluctant to share much information on the business (how it is running, what it is trying to accomplish and where it is heading), because he wants to call all the shots anyway, so why invite commentary that he may not want to hear?

Changing with growth. Micromanagement is pervasive. And it is as deadly as it is understandable. Typically the entrepreneur – I rather call this person “small business owner” – at the outset has to do most everything himself. He cannot afford to first build an organization and then see if his start-up can make it.

At this early stage even if he hires some staff, he will typically try to do it on the cheap, looking around in his personal network for anyone, a family member or a friend, who can use a job and can possibly help out. Under those conditions the owner has a good reason to closely watch what’s happening in his store and to frequently jump in to avoid mistakes.

But what starts as a necessity has the risk of becoming a habit that is hard to shake. The owner becomes convinced that he knows better than anyone else and that doing things his way is the only path to success.

If the business flourishes in spite of micro-management he will see it as a vindication of his way of managing the business. And if it does not flourish it will be because people don’t listen and are inept at doing things his way. That is when the turnover in personnel starts happening.

Obviously the problem perpetuates itself, because even if the business grows, it will not be able to attract and retain high performing talent, unless the owner realizes the error of his ways and becomes a manager rather than a micro-manager.

Share authority. This brings me to another favorite topic of mine. That is the misconception that if you are the owner of the business you have to call all the shots. In addition to having (access to) capital, there is vision and courage involved in starting a business and getting it off the ground. But the characteristics that make you a good entrepreneur are not the same as the competencies required to be a good business leader (manager).

What is there to say that, if you have come up with a solid business proposition and if you have put your money where your mouth is, you are automatically the best person to lead an organization that can implement your proposition and make it a commercial success?

What makes the visionary that you probably are, qualified to call the shots on proper human resource management, supply & distribution, marketing or information management?

The answer is that ownership and leadership are distinctly separate functions in business that, more often than not, are better filled by different persons than by one and the same.

In public corporations, that is automatically achieved by the Board of Directors, as the representative of the owners (shareholders), putting a management team in place to run the business. In private business that does not happen very often. The owner is, more often than not, also Chief Executive Officer or President of the company and Chairman of the Board.

There are good reasons why so many privately owned businesses fail or fail to live up to their full potential. Marty Grunder has pointed his finger at some of the most compelling reasons for this unnecessary impediment to economic growth.

Frans Jager is principal of Castnet Corp, a business consultant for the green industry and an executive