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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Management Overdrive

If you are a sci-fi/horror buff like I am, you probably remember the Stephen King book made into a cheesy flick called “Maximum Overdrive”, circa 1986, where the machines of the world were suddenly possessed by a sinister force from outer space, whose sole purpose was to rid the world of mankind.

There is another sinister force which I have personally witnessed in companies of all sizes, this is the force of micro-management. Sometimes this is a corporate cultural phenomenon, but often it is a single person in mid-level management who makes life absolutely miserable for anyone working under him/her.

My theory on this type of management (in large corporations) is one where insecurity in ones’ own effectiveness or inability to trust underlings to do their jobs leads to constant surveillance. It also leads to employee resentment of not only the leader, but also the company and their particular job.

With startups and smaller companies owned by the entrepreneur, micro-management is more of a rule than the exception. Entrepreneurs are visionaries, and tend to trust their instincts more than their own people with carrying out that vision. Often times the entrepreneur can take his company only so far before having to hand the reins over to the leadership to take the company to the next level.

With large, established corporations, micro-management is usually the exception to the rule due to various checks and balances. Where it exists, however, it’s that mid-level manager who wreaks havoc on morale.

Here’s a great example:
In the throes of a large ERP software upgrade project, complex, over budget, and understaffed, a team of experts works diligently to meet project milestones.

Since the project has slipped on some deadlines, and communication with the business users is sometimes lacking, a daily priority conference call is established to “hasten” the project along. This, in conjunction with a daily project defect call with the software vendor, and the team is losing 10 man-hours of productivity per person, per week. Add this to about 5 hours for various other “touchy-feely” meetings, and each person is giving up 15 hours per week to meetings; meetings that take people away from their keyboards.

To make matters worse, the team’s micro-manager pays a visit almost every hour-on-the-hour, asking how much has been accomplished since his last visit. This incessant noise is akin to a 5 year olds’ constant questioning while on a long road trip, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”, as if repeated asking will alter space/time, and deliver a quicker result. In fact, it has the opposite effect.

Unless of course the road trip is in a car named “Christine”, in which case the project was doomed from the start…

JM Kelly, The IT Entrepreneur

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