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10 Things You Should Never Micromanage

Hey, go-getter. Yes, you could do it all, but there are times it's best to step back and stop stifling your team's productivity and creativity.
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By their very nature, entrepreneurs are doers. While other people may scheme or dream up ideas, entrepreneurs prefer to take action. That's how companies are born. The rub, however, is that the drive to do things can often become a hindrance for an entrepreneur over time. "As companies grow, many entrepreneurs have trouble moving from the doing phase to the leading phase," says Stephen Harvill, founder of Creative Ventures, a consulting company in Dallas, Texas. "It's understandable since many times the small business person did just about everything to get the business started. But, as the business grows, they don't shift their mindset from doing to leading." In other words, many entrepreneurs get stuck micromanaging tasks that should be delegated to others inside or even outside the company.  

A case in point is Mike Faith, CEO of Headsets.com, an online retailer based in San Francisco, who says that giving up doing things can be like breaking a bad habit. "Many entrepreneurs have an addiction to making sure things get done 'just right'" and there's no reason to give that up, says Faith. "That's often how they became successful, by having higher standards to get things right than others around them, sometimes even obsessive standards. I'm one of those people."

The truth is, however, the more a CEO micromanages his staff and subordinates, the less productive everyone becomes – which can lead to a death spiral for a nascent enterprise. The answer, then, is to hire the kinds of people you can trust to get the job done all on their own. "Employees need to be given responsibility and continually challenged to grow so that their jobs do not become routine and so that they personally feel invested in their role and the organization as a whole," says Ryan Peterson, founder and CEO of OCZ Technology in San Jose, California. "It is important to start delegating tasks immediately and just as critical to make sure that the right tasks are begin delegated."

In that spirit, Inc. asked dozens of entrepreneurs and small business experts to list what they thought were the top 10 items that, despite every temptation to do so, they should not micromanage. Here's how they responded, in no particular order:

1. Accounting

There's no doubt that understanding the numbers behind your business is critical to the success of your business. But you should still steer clear of tackling the day-to-day tasks in assembling them. "Outsourcing payroll is cheap and easy, even large corporations do it," says Cliff Holekamp, a professor at Washington University's Olin School of Business in St. Louis. "Don't bother with this time consuming task." A lot of entrepreneurs also spend time handling their own bookkeeping and paying bills when they should be hiring a bookkeeper, activating online bill pay options, or trusting an internal resource to handle it for them, says Scott Gerber, managing partner of Gerber Enterprises, a brand development company in New York City. "This is a time-sucking activity, and while it's important for the IRS to get the right information come tax time, there are more than enough resources, either internal or external, that can be trained or hired to handle such an activity," he says.

2. Human Resources

Every CEO owes the success of the business to their people. But, digging into the details of the health care package or employment law is better left to a specialist. Just as importantly, CEOs should stay out of the hiring process until they are truly needed. "Many times business owners want to focus on building a team of people they feel they can trust and depend on," says Adrienne Graham, who heads up two companies in Atlanta, Empower Me! Corporation and Hues Consulting & Management. "But they often let their own personalities, preferences and idiosyncrasies get in the way of making sound hiring decisions." Similarly, CEOs should delegate tasks associated with on-boarding and training new employees, says Joe Crisara, founder of Contractorselling.com. "Assigning a mentor to a new employee is a double win' he says. First it increases the esteem and value of the employee mentor. Also, it allows the new employee to see how things are really done instead of they way the boss thinks it is being done." 

3. Social Media

There is a temptation among many entrepreneurs like Samantha Salven-Bick, the founder of Los Angeles-based Samantha Slaven Publicity, to micromanage every outward bound email or piece of correspondence – including Facebook updates. "Trying to oversee every word that leaves the office is time consuming, frustrating and perhaps a bit control-freaky," she says, adding that she edits all email sent by her junior staffers. That's a mistake, says Ellen Thompson, CEO of 4 Walls, which manages several online property websites out of Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, especially when it comes to social media applications. "Most entrepreneurs would be better off leaving social media management to younger employees that 'get it,'" says Thompson. "Social media is by its very nature very informal and it requires a large volume of ongoing work. Micromanaging the messages will make social media campaigns sound inauthentic. In our experience, you can't censure every post without seeing your social media campaign ground to a halt."

4. Busy Work

When they start out, most entrepreneurs pride themselves on their ability to do anything to save money – including sweeping the floors and cleaning the bathroom when needed. But, as the company grows, they need to hire an operations staff or office manager capable of staying on top everything from ordering office supplies to answering the phone and filing expense reports, says Dianna Durkin, an entrepreneur and author of The Loyalty Advantage. Orit Pennington, CEO of TPGTEX Label Solutions in Houston, says she not only delegates the answering of her cell phone, she also asks a staff member to read and sort the company's mail, bringing her only the most critical pieces with the relevant information already highlighted. 

5. IT Issues

Knowing everything about your business may be a source of pride for entrepreneurs, but when it comes to fixing a bug or downloading a virus patch, call for help. "When there's a computer issue, I don't hesitate to pick up the phone and call my IT guru, who has been working with computers for most of his adult life," says says Laura Stack, a productivity consultant and author of SuperCompetent: The Six Keys to Perform at Your Productive Best. "I'm sure you could probably learn to troubleshoot errors, write HTML, create WordPress sites, and more, but it's not worth your time and frustration to figure it out."

6. Customer Concerns

There's no doubt that any business owner needs to spend time doting on their key customers – to a point. But the more a CEO steps in to handle a complaint from a dissatisfied customer, the more they can disenfranchise their employees. "You cannot look over the shoulder of your client relationship managers," says Gary Bahadur, CEO of KRAA Security, which is based in Miami. "This assumes you have hired someone who knows what they are doing. If so, then you cannot confuse the client or the manager in how to deal with the client. This does lead to having to put out an occasional fire. But the benefits of letting that manager really get to know the client and build trust with them outweighs the risks."

7. Meetings

Meetings are another area where entrepreneurs tend to get stuck looking at the trees instead of the forest. Rather than attending strategic meetings, they are too often tempted to attend tactical ones as well, says Steve Schmieder, CEO of s2, a marketing and communications firm in Chicago. For instance, Barbara Roch who is an executive coach and lecturer at Wharton, refers to an entrepreneur client of hers who will not let his team hold a project meeting without him. Yet, he comes late, wants to be caught up, and then dominates each agenda item. "The progress on the project is slow at best and he can't see that his involvement is to blame," she says. "When I bring it up he says that the team doesn't fully understand what he wants, how he wants them to go about it and that if he is not there then they will get stuck." As a solution, she is trying to get him to agree to receive a briefing by the project leader every week and only to sit in on meetings once a month.

8. Creativity

Many entrepreneurs like to express their creativity by participating in things like brainstorming sessions or dabbling in graphic design. But by doing so, they may in fact be stifling the creative output of their employees if they get too involved. "Once you shoot for more creativity in your business, you must allow your team to deliver this creative juice, their own ways, untouched, unpolished at first," says Armelle Cloche, founder and CEO of iStayYoung.net in San Francisco. "The best new ideas come from there. Then, it can be finalized as a team."

9. Purchase Decisions

Keeping tight controls on costs is essential to the success of any business, especially these days. But micromanaging every purchase decision can easily alienate your employees. The alternative, then, is to figure out what dollar amount you're comfortable with and allow team members to make financial decisions on their own as long as they stay within that bracket, says Tania Luna, co-founder of SurpriseIndustries.com in New York City. "This means you don't have to be involved in selecting things like toilet paper, and your team members will feel good about their independence and your trust in them."

10. Tracking Time

Entrepreneurs tend to be hard workers, of course, which means they are often the first to arrive and the last to leave the office. But, making it your priority to check in on each of your employee's schedules is a mistake, says Steve Harper, a consultant based in Austin who's the author of The Ripple Effect. "One of the easy traps a business owner can get caught up in is tracking people's time – making sure they are showing up on time, doing what they are supposed to, not taking extra-long lunches, not leaving early etc.," says Harper. "There is no need to install temperature gauges in the chairs to make sure the live bodies are putting in their full eight hours. In fact, not micromanaging an employee's time and placing the trust in them to appropriately manage their own time, workload and priorities often encourages the employee to have even more ownership in their work life. My experience has shown me when you give people the trust and the flexibility to get the job done they will usually end up putting even more hours in than they ever would have thought to do if you were micromanaging them."

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Aug 13, 2010

DARREN DAHL

Darren Dahl is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine, which he has written for since 2004. He also works as a collaborative writer and editor and has partnered with several high-profile authors. Dahl lives in Asheville, North Carolina.




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