Matrix Management

Too much information makes us micromanagers


Kevan Hall, CEO of Global Integration shares his experience.

I’m expecting a parcel any day now. It is something I’m looking forward to receiving but it’s not urgent. In the past I would have known it had arrived when the postman rang the doorbell. Yesterday I received an email from Amazon giving me a tracking number so I could see how the delivery is progressing.

The delivery date was three weeks from now which seemed strange for something that was in stock – so I checked DHL’s tracking website. It’s amazing the level of detail you see on there. I know it was picked up from the supplying company and taken to Malpensa airport, two hours later it’s at Gatwick where it has been on hold from 7:43 this morning until now (16:25). Now I am starting to wonder if there is a problem, maybe I should give them a call. Looks like it won’t be delivered today, useless people.

What on earth am I doing? Checking back on the tracking website to see where in the delivery process something is when it doesn’t really matter.

It is the same in many organizations; we have so much data and information available that we get sucked into paying attention to a level of detail that doesn’t really add value. The fact that we can measure and report something tends to lead us into inappropriate levels of detail in management.

When I became a manufacturing manager, I was presented with my first monthly finance report of over 50 pages. I spent the whole day going through it with an accountant to really understand my budgets and constraints. At the end of the session I concluded that the only things I could really change that would make a significant difference were overtime and scrap. Most of the other factors were negligible compared to these or outside my direct control.

I asked finance for a one-page report that just showed these two numbers, they were horrified – who was going to manage the stationary budget of a couple of hundred pounds per month? When I told them that spending any time at all managing that was counter-productive relative to what we could achieve in the other areas this was clearly the wrong answer. In the end I had to give a graduate trainee responsibility for all the other budget items to make them happy.

In reality I focused just on the two big ticket items that I could influence – to great effect.

It also reminded me of working with the leadership team of a large Internet insurance company, they were so hooked into the data that they were constantly checking the numbers and fiddling with their site. This left them no time to get their heads up and set the strategy and leadership style for the business.

With the advent of big data and increasing sophistication and integration of information systems we will have the opportunity to be presented with more and more information. However, if we don’t want to be sucked into micromanaging everything, we need to stop and ask whether and where we should be paying attention at this level of detail.

In an information economy the scarcest resource is attention – be mindful about where you direct this scarcest resource.

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