The Last Time He MicromanagedSeptember 1, 2012
Years ago, in a company far, far away, I had a boss that micromanaged everything. His assistant never typed a letter that didn’t have to be retyped three times. He attended every meeting, saved every report and changed every decision. He was obsessed with every detail. And he collected everything. It was rumored that he had an envelope in his desk marked, “For String Too Short to Save.” And, the company operated below average—in the industry, in sales and in profits.
My job: Pricing the firm’s new quotations. And when the boss reviewed each final quote, he changed every price by at least 5 cents. This occurred if the quote was $20/thousand pieces or $300/thousand pieces.
One morning when the boss arrived, there were donuts on a work desk. When he asked why, I told him that the donuts were to celebrate my birthday. And when he asked how old I was, without thinking I said, “I’m 27 and a nickel.”
You should have seen the look as my meaning sunk in. From that moment on and for the next several years, employees were free to be creative. Sales increased by 400 percent and our unit became the company’s most profitable in the corporation.
Micromanaging More Destructive than Ever
That was then and this is now. While your boss may not look at every detail of what you do, I believe that micromanaging not only is alive and well, but that it has taken on a new form and is more destructive than ever.
In the mid-1980s, with the beginning of serious foreign competition, profitability in our industry became more difficult. On the surface, the solution became pushing more out the door faster. After 2000, everyone had to ship more with less people. The last week of every month became life and death as companies strived to meet their numbers. Companies were being micromanaged by the calendar.
The result was to act without thinking. The goal became shipping volume without regard to profits, as managers assumed that profits would follow volume. The opposite, in fact, is true. Here’s why.
• During the last week of each month, all effort focused on finishing product. In-process operations slowed, so that we pulled a vacuum in the flow. Then shipments slowed during the first part of the following month.
• Some orders, not even scheduled for the month, were rushed through because they could be finished. We then asked customers to accept product early.