I recently read a fascinating article on a social media site entitled “Micromanagers: Flushing Companies Down the Toilet, One Detail at a Time”(1). While the article is very thought provoking at a company level, the adverse effects of micromanagement on innovation is even more pronounced.
After nearly 30 years in leadership roles in product development and business management, I’ve learned that meaningful ideation is a gift that some people have. If an organization is fortunate enough to have individuals with this ability, the best approach for leaders is to enable them and get out of the way. I’ve also learned that ideation is a very small part of successful innovation when compared to the execution that follows.
Where leaders can and do have a tremendous impact on the innovation process is in helping to take an idea from concept to market. This is where leaders can kill a great idea or turn a marginal idea into a successful innovation. I believe the key is to help teams understand what really matters and ensure those accountable for execution stay focused on the critical few requirements that define success.
A good friend and valued former co-worker used to regularly remind me that “What gets measured gets done.” I learned to interpret this as him telling me when the organization (or management) was beginning to micromanage an activity and in his view we were likely doing the wrong thing(s). While I didn’t always agree with his perspective, I do appreciate that people follow leaders and they respond to managers. If people are asked to do the wrong things and are asked to track and report on their progress, they will do them (or they will leave the company as the aforementioned article clearly articulates).
In an honest effort to “improve the predictability” of business activities many companies begin to overuse tools to track projects and start measuring and reporting on too many things. While it doesn’t matter what you use to track activities, you must first ensure that you understand and only measure what matters. Measuring what doesn’t matter is micromanaging. Measuring and tracking the “critical few” and empowering the team to deliver the details is what I believe leads to successful innovation.