Avoid the Chasm of Micromanaging Your Startup

Avoid the Chasm of Micromanaging Your Startup

Posted by: Gillian Muessig & Anne Kennedy on Thursday, June 30, 2016 at 12:00:00 am

Is this you? A Founder takes charge, charges in and says, “I’ll take this from here,” and “I’ll edit that before you post,” and “I’ve got the voice of this company,” and “I know how to get that invoice paid, I’ll do it,” and so on. And becomes overwhelmed, overstressed and discouraged, while the team becomes dysfunctional.

Sound familiar?

In truth, in the earliest stages of company development, the Founder does do everything. The Founder is never sure someone else is going to do the job as well as he is doing it, and is not sure he can trust someone else to do things ‘right.’ And for good reason! There has not been anyone else. The Founder had to do it all.

This, of course, is not sustainable. A company cannot grow -- much less scale -- with one Founder doing it all. Often the Founder is what we often call the ‘Wizard”, perhaps a technologist, but always the visionary for the start up. All Wizards need ‘Executors’ to manifest the vision, and protect the wizard by managing day-to-day operations.

As companies grow, whenever things start getting bumpy, founders continue to cling to the belief that they are the only one who can do things and do them well. In doing so, they leap right into to chasm of micromanaging.  Molly Graham writes in First Round Review “Give your Legos away” to explain that every few months Founders and CEOS must rewrite their own jobs, and give away the tasks that they have been doing. This helps people on their team expand their skills, and find their perfect spot on the team. Not least, the Founder then moves on to tasks presumably many levels above the day-to-day weeds. But, giving away those Legos doesn’t come easily.

Plus, the very lack of processes makes it difficult to hand off anything. That’s the purpose of defining processes. They provide context, guidelines, and replicable steps that can be taught to others easily.

Micromanagement results from poor processes in place, or no processes. Without processes, people start working at cross purposes very, very quickly. And this will drag your startup down, and stop you from getting to your goals. No processes, or poor processes will always lead to micromanagement.

Good Process Spell Relief

Good processes avoid having to micromanage. But getting good processes in place can take a lot of handholding, cajoling, and reassuring. It depends on the team you’re dealing with, the stage of your company, how many people you’re dealing with, how functional or dysfunctional the company and corporate culture has been, and how far down the micromanaging path your Founder has gone instead of putting processes in place.

An Effective Workflow Process:

Is tight: It leads to far fewer dropped balls and enables you to do more with fewer person hours.

Is replicable: Unlike email threads, a process provides clarity and standardizes activity so it can be handed off to others in the event of illness, travel, or just being busy. 

Is scalable: Working with just a few elements of anything and just a few people is easy. But not scalable. Scalability requires replicability and enables you expand your business operations without mayhem.

Has Boundaries: Limits on input prevents meddling. This is critical. It avoids team members stepping on each others toes, while providing clear places for input from those members with valuable assets.

Has time limits: A time limit provides clear deadlines for input from all other team members, thereby speeding process better than emails with multiple changes in plans or edits at cross purposes. It prevents eleventh hour stumbling and bumbling.

Leverage talents and knowledge: It enables subject matter experts to teach appropriately and avoids enabling team members to meddle or stall speed of development.

Identifies control: If input is not useful, the final approving party in any process need not use it. Designated final authority is a critical success factor in a solid business process.

How do you get processes in place and stop micromanaging your company to the early demise? Understand who you are: if you are the wizard, get an executor on board immediately, and if you are the executor make sure that you have a wizard to start working on your business plans.  Trying to convince a founder to step down and give away some of the hats he is wearing as the company grows is extremely difficult.  If people are used to doing everything and having all the control, they will not like new people coming in and taking the tasks away.

In First Round Review, Anne Dwayne, Zinch CEO says, “Good leaders embrace the context of the joy of figuring things out” as gamers do.

Try to approach the team as a gamer would a new level.  Manage the processes themselves, rather than the people. This allows your teams to do things as they see fit, gives them independence and creative time to execute the process.  Query the team on what they do already, try to find a time when the process has failed and fix that.  Ask how each person would create a training manual for their job. In “The E-Myth Revisited”-  Michael Gerber (1990), the core premise was that entrepreneurship was not about doing it all yourself but rather creating replicable processes. Replicable skills and processes are crucial because more than one person should know how to each job. Go for continuous refinement, not complexity.

                                                                     Final tips

  1. Prepare yourself. There’s going to be push back, hurt feelings, and trouble from the top down. The longer the micromanaging has been going on the harder it will be. Engage the team based on their personalities and work on them as the gamer would.


  1. Talk to your team. Determine what they do already and have them spell out what their jobs are.  The best processes are simple; they have the fewest steps and are completely replicable.


  1. Test it! Test, test, test and do it again. Not everyone is going to do it immediately it will take lots of cajoling, and hand holding.  If they know one of their jobs is not just to use it but to improve it will be so much better for the efficiency of the team


Originally broadcast on CEO Coach Podcast Air Date: March 21st, 2016



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