The Big Problem with Micro-Managing


It’s tempting: Keeping a close eye on employees and their behavior has its appeal.

When you have a vision for how an organization should be run, how things should be accomplished and what the tone should be, it’s easy to want to dictate every step of the path to getting there.

Especially at tech start-ups, where the prevailing culture is often chaotic, the temptation to instill strict rules and monitor things step-by-step can be irresistible.

The latest debacle at one start-up, online publishing house G/O Media, is no exception. The media company responsible for sites like Gizmodo, Jezebel and Kotaku — formerly known as Gizmodo Media Group — was acquired by a private equity firm earlier this year from Univision.

The sites belonging to the group have made their name on the internet for their irreverent tone and willingness to write exposés about the inner workings of their own management. They are opinionated, humorous, occasionally raunchy and willing to get in fights on social media. Does that make the inner manager in you start to itch? Well, perhaps you’d be well-advised to take into account the following:

Authenticity is everything

Within an organization and especially with start-ups, where the link between inner workings and outside relationships is so strong, it’s important to remember that authenticity matters. When employees think you’re manipulating them, don’t have faith in them or aren’t being completely transparent, tensions that arise could threaten the foundation of your organization.

Case in point: Jim Spanfeller, the head of the private equity firm that created G/O Media by taking over the website conglomerate, set a series of policies shortly after taking over that seemed to run counter to the ethos of the company. They included a new dress code and attendance policyOpens a new window , which may have their place at certain kinds of companies, but contradicted the culture of the media start-up.

Solicit and listen to feedback

Included in the series of changes spearheaded by Spanfeller was a series of hires that, in some cases, replaced people within the organization. As chronicled in one account of the internal changes, published by one of the sites among those acquiredOpens a new window , Spanfeller installed a “bunch of white dudes” in management positions. Despite feedback from employees about the suitability of the candidates, who in some cases didn’t seem to have the necessary qualifications to earn their posts, Spanfeller went ahead with the hires.

If you have a vision for your company and believe that only certain people understand and can carry it out, there are some scenarios in which installing your people in key positions makes sense. But it’s always a good idea to solicit and rely on the feedback of employees who will often have a tighter working relationship.

The urge to micro-manage an organization usually stems either from a lack of faith in your organization, or excitement about the outcome of the work you have in mind.

In either case, the best bet is usually to be honest from the start — and in the latter, it’s a good idea to come up with a project that doesn’t involve major overhauls at the start. Instead, begin with a project that integrates you deeper into an organization or division before proposing changes.

Being upfront with your organization will often get the results you want, while retaining goodwill.

The alternative? Micro-manage your best talent out the doorOpens a new window . As with so many things in life, resist the temptation.