Micromanaging…or is it attention to detail?

The micro-manager.  Ugh.  It is a label that no manager wants on his or her back.  But managers need some details about what is happening on the ground.

How does one balance the need for details and overall control, with the risk of being a micro-manager? Before you answer that question, consider two articles.

The first comes From the Harvard Business Review: If You’re Not Micromanaging, You’re Not Leading. Michael Schrage points to the JPMorgan debacle as proof positive of his position.  Here’s a snippet from his post.


The single most revealing moment in the coverage of JPMorgan’s multibillion-dollar debacle can be found in this take-your-breath-away passage from The Wall Street Journal:

On April 30, associates who were gathered in a conference room handed Mr. Dimon summaries and analyses of the losses. But there were no details about the trades themselves. “I want to see the positions!” he barked, throwing down the papers, according to attendees. “Now! I want to see everything!”

 When Mr. Dimon saw the numbers, these people say, he couldn’t breathe.

Only when he saw the actual trades — the raw data — did Dimon realize the full magnitude of his company’s situation. The horrible irony: The very detail-oriented systems (and people) Dimon had put in place had obscured rather than surfaced his bank’s horrible hedge. What he’d dismissed as a “tempest in a teapot” less than a month earlier had turned into a multi-billion dollar humiliation. If Dimon had seen those positions — naked and unsummarized — back then, could his bank have saved itself and its CEO a lot of money and embarrassment?

Dimon (whom I’ve met and admire enormously) acknowledges he was too complacent. But this vignette affirms my belief that leaders need to “go to the source” even before they turn to their best people. Seeing the data raw instead of analytically pre-chewed can have enormous impact on executive perceptions. That’s not to minimize or marginalize the importance of analysis and interpretation. But when tempests threaten to outgrow their teapots, nothing creates situational awareness faster than seeing with your own eyes what your experts are trying to synthesize and summarize. There’s a reason why great chefs visit the farms and markets that source their restaurants: The raw ingredients are critical to success.


The second article takes a slightly different stance. Micromanaging is not the Same as Attention to Detail. 


There are a many people who confuse micromanagement with attention to detail. Micromanaging has a negative connotation, and for good reason. It is when a manager or leader assigns work, tells capable employees exactly how to do it, monitors them excessively, and often takes over when work is not done exactly as the manager wanted. The result is that employees never learn how to do the job or utilize their skills and creativity. Employees become discouraged and lose interest in the job since they have no sense of ownership in the process or outcomes of their work; the manager does…

Therefore, when attention to detail is mislabeled as micromanaging, one tends to do less of it. This is counterproductive because attention to detail is not the same as micromanaging. Paying attention to detail is what good managers and leaders must do to ensure that work is done properly and the organization’s vision is advanced. It involves assigning work, allowing staff to do it their way and making sure it gets done according to agreed standards.


Perhaps both authors are driving home the same point.  As a manager, you need to pick the right people, give them the right marching orders, and then let them get busy.  But you must have a monitoring system.  When you catch a whiff that things are veering off course, you must help guide things back on course.  And you might have to roll up your sleeves a bit to do so.

So, let me pose the following questions to you…

1.How does one balance the need for details and overall control, with the risk of being a micromanager?

2.Where does attention to detail bleed into micromanaging?

Anthony Demangone

Anthony Demangone

Anthony Demangone is executive vice president and chief operating officer at the National Association of Federal Credit Unions (NAFCU). Demangone oversees day-to-day operations and manages the association’s education, membership, ... Web: https://www.cuinsight.com/partner/nafcu Details