Friday, October 30, 2015

The Paradox of Micromanagement

Associates who struggle and fail to fit into an organization’s culture and strategic system will often complain that they were micromanaged and not allowed to do their jobs.

Having found myself more than occasionally on the receiving end of that parting shot, I made it a point, with the objectivity of organizational psychologists, to learn more.

Was it true or an excuse, and why was it was perceived that way?

Over the years I perpetually honed my management style as well as the cultures of the organizations I managed.

We had always hired based on various characteristics including as much technical know-how as we could afford.  But many people we hired failed to understand that technical know-how is only a start of being a good employee.

It take time to develop alignment and paradoxically, often what feels like micromanagement is actually not being managed and coached closely enough.

This is especially true in small, high-performance, strategically aligned entrepreneurial enterprises such as the community destination marketing organizations I led.

People in these settings must not only work independently but at the same time synchronizing with others within a culture and strategic direction as though they were all one.

There is little margin for error so whenever possible mistakes and learning best take place within the organization.  By that I mean inside the four walls…not out in the community or with visitors.

Reputation management is crucial to sustaining credibility and relevance with external audiences, but far too many organizations either seem to play fast and loose or redirect their energies into looking good rather than doing or being good.

To paraphrase an old law school meme, more than technical understanding, success takes good judgment which comes from experience which in turn comes from bad judgment.

In other words, learning from failure.

In a classic 2011 article in Harvard Business Review, organization behavior researcher Dr. Amy Edmundson broke failure down into a spectrum.

At the blameworthy end were failures due to deviance, inattention and lack of ability while failures due to uncertainty about the future, hypothesis testing and exploratory testing fall at the praiseworthy end.

Process inadequacy and task challenge fell in the middle.

Unfortunately, people quick to complain about “micromanagement” are often still on a steep learning curve and/or don’t see failure and coaching as a pivotal part of learning.

Worse, they don’t take responsibility for their failures.

Researchers such as Dr. Carol Dweck have found that the ability to view failure as just a part of learning is a mindset gleaned by the third grade.

Regrettably, many people come into the workforce with a fixed mentality, resistant to not only critical thinking and teaching, but going so far as to view questions as criticism.

They contribute to the 51% of the workforce who are “not engaged” in their work (just putting in time,) according to Gallup, as well a fair proportion of the 18% who are “actively disengaged” and working to undermine workplace.

Last year, researchers at Michigan, UNC-Chapel Hill and Harvard found that when we take personal ownership of our failures we are much more likely to learn from them and work harder.

Last January, in a speech to the students there, the president of Brigham Young University argued that any quest for perfection should place the emphasis more on “quest” than on perfection.

The ability to learn from mistakes and failure as well as soak up feedback and make adjustments are propensities similar to character, all of which are best inculcated between birth and the age of 8.

Non-cognitive factors, such as perseverance, motivation and grit are tough to teach or learn in school, let alone the workplace.

This is true even when reading and applying science in books such as John Medina’s Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School.

Hint: men learn best when given the gist, women want details.

As with so many issues such as poverty and academic achievement, things such as this get gridlocked in the “chicken and egg” divide between those who argue that it is an issue of capacity and those who view it as individual responsibility.

In my experience, the solutions are both/and with far to little emphasis in society, it seems, on the latter.

No comments: