Agile & Digital / Matrix Management / Virtual Teams

In praise of lazy managers – avoiding the control cascade

There was extensive coverage in the Sunday Times this weekend on some particular individuals in the banking industry.  I am not going to name names, because I think there has been enough written about particular individuals, but one of the key behaviours that was mentioned was very high level of micro management.

One chief executive of a very large organization held a 9.30 am meeting, every morning with his direct reports, and asked them very detailed information about what had happened in a particular branch on a particular day. The environment was quite hostile, and quite antagonistic:  the morning meetings became known as the  “Morning Beatings”.

But it is the behaviours that this micro-management approach drives outside the meetings that concern me.  I worked with this particular organization last year, and it was very clear that because that behaviour was driven from the top, it created what I call a control cascade.

If you were the very senior person invited to that meeting, you needed to know the details of everything that went on in your organization in case you were asked a question. Because of that, the people who worked for you needed to know everything that was going on below them in order to feed your information need, because you were feeding the need of your boss.

In a large organization this creates a massive reverse cascade of work informing someone right at the top of the organization, about information that, frankly, they don’t need to have.

This is one of the clearest indications of the scale of waste that is caused by micro management, and of course the micro management was clearly focusing on the wrong topics, because it wasn’t the sales in a particular branch in the UK that caused the subsequent problems in his industry.

In many organizations and admiring press pieces, these very smart and hardworking senior executives were lauded and rewarded (often by the same journalists who are now criticising them for the same behaviours). My view is that this kind of manager is dangerous and can easily drive a culture of micromanagement that feeds their own inappropriate control tendencies and undermines autonomy in the whole organization.

Perhaps what we need is lazier senior managers – a lazy manager is generally a good delegator.

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