Hi! Managers: Micromanagement and perfectionism: fast tracks to failure?

Economy January 25, 2012 00:00

By Jean-Francois Cousin

5,618 Viewed

Meet Gary, factory director and remarkable gentleman: always impeccably dressed -cufflinks and designer ties - superbly organised, perfectly punctual. Zoom-out and see his office: clean as a hospital, files on shelves in flawless alphabetical order, and y

You guessed right: Gary is “Mr Perfectionist”, and I have yet to meet another one playing at that level.

Is this story unfolding in Japan? No, right here in Thailand.

Is Gary’s plant a paradise? Not quite close… if you ask the supervisors they will tell you “IT’S-HELL-HERE”! Says Khun Sombat: “operators don’t volunteer for over-time anymore, and behave more and more like our bosses; we are so tired of it all.”

So what is really going on there? To understand, you have to know a bit of history.

Gary came in two years ago, beaming with pride about his previous success at another plant (much smaller and far simpler actually), and proclaiming his ambition to make this factory the worldwide ‘best-in-class’ in productivity and quality for the group. He went on to work extremely hard. And amazingly… he reached his double-goal within a year and a half! The problem lies with “HOW” he achieved his goal and what happened next...

Gary micromanaged – possibly ‘nano-managed’ – his direct reports to an extent they could never have imagined, and quickly they felt they had no choice but to micromanage their subordinates as well.

The time for salary increase and bonus came shortly after the plant got the coveted awards for best productivity and best quality worldwide. And employees perceived both salary increase and bonus as very low, given the extraordinary efforts they had made. The operators’ motivation slumped first, and so did productivity and quality results. A trade union was set up and threatened to go on strike, for the first time in the whole group’s history in Asia...

Can you guess what Gary did then? In permanent fear of a strike which would ruin his image, he by-passed managers and supervisors to get “close” to the operators, and took many “populist” measures to satisfy them in the short-term.

Now you must be empathising with supervisors, squeezed between micromanaging-managers and empowered operators…

What will happen next remains to be seen. My bet? Many resignations at supervisor-level, and then amongst managers. Things do not look good in the short-term. Gary might have an epiphany, turn his back to perfectionism and micromanagement, start to empower, encourage initiatives and allow failure at calculating risks, or he might be replaced. Anyway, it will take a long time to reinstall healthy behaviour in the plant and reach “best” productivity and quality worldwide in a sustainable way.

It might be tempting to blame Gary for his lack of management-maturity here, yet the responsibility for this failure should go – for a large part – to the system which promoted Gary beyond the ceiling of his current managerial-competency (and without coaching!).

Amongst the things we can learn from this sadly real story:

-micro-management costs a lot in the medium term! Assuming someone continuously micromanages his subordinates, the company will have to pay them well over market-rate, to compensate for their unhappiness and lack of professional growth

-a manager must be prepared to empower effectively before becoming a manager of managers/supervisors

-the successor of a micro-manager will have a tough, long time to revive motivation, good-will and initiative amongst staff

-if micro-management makes subordinates unhappy, it will eventually make the “micro-manager” exactly that: a “micro” manager, unhappily stuck at his level

All together, a ‘perfect’ lose-lose-lose scenario! I guess you won’t let it happen anywhere near you.

Jean-Francois Cousin is an accredited executive coach (www.1-2-win.net) and the former managing director of a Fortune-500 company in Thailand. Follow his articles in Hi! Managers every fourth Wednesday of the month.