Communication Governing Board Leadership Org Culture

Micromanagement, the absence of trust

I define micromanagement as a pattern of someone in authority interfering with people, projects, or initiatives in a way that hampers progress — without adding any value. It can mean slowing down, or even losing, opportunities for progress. Where boards of directors are concerned, micromanagement causes this interference while failing to offer the value of a healthy review by the board.  Though this article focuses more on board micromanagement, it is a problem that can occur at any level of an organization.

board tableBoard micromanagement is common, and it’s damaging. Ultimately, operating as a value-added governing board involves trust. The trust level between the CEO and the board is a common determinant on the existence and degree of micromanagement.

The trust line begins with board policy: How much authority is afforded the CEO to spend money, revise budgets, commit to contracts, enter into agreements, hire and manage personnel, and so on? Trust builds over a period of time, during which reliable, honest performance is evident. On the other hand, trust is eroded by such things as reduced performance, lack of honesty, resistance to board authority, and most any kind of surprise. It is important to note that trust can be eroded by either side in the board/management relationship.

Causes of Mistrust

There are many causes of a lack of trust. Here are just a few to start your thinking and to help you recognize the causes in your own organization.

  • Board members were never oriented or trained in the appropriate role.
  • Policies (bylaws or administrative policies) that define board and management roles are lacking.
  • There is a lack of trend data in board packets that would enable board members to evaluate the performance of the organization.
  • There is a tendency on the part of the CEO, to limit options presented to the board, or to sell, rather than present options.
  • The CEO withholds information on the true condition of the organization.
  • The CEO does not follow through on directives of the board.

Tools for the turnaround

What to do about it? Have – and know how to use – the right tools. My experience is that boards tend to control details because they don’t have the tools to gain control and understanding of the big picture.

These are the tools I’m talking about.

Strategic planning

Strategic planning is vital. Boards must have a thorough, effective strategic planning system that sets both the long- and short- term directions of the organization. It can also be used to hold management accountable for results.  This tool manages the change agenda, or future, of the organization.

Trend data

In addition to knowing whether projects in a strategic plan are on schedule, boards must know that they’re having the intended impact (for example, are they generating growth or solving priority problems?) Only performance trend data generated over time will provide that kind of information.

Ultimately, performance (as shown by trend data) is what will instill trust in management. Ideally, trend data is provided for key systems in the organization. Knowing when to act, and when not to act is vital in avoiding micromanagement, and trend data is extremely important in that regard.

Board administrative policies

Board administrative policies define the rules for the board and management.  For the board, they cover board fees, ethics rules, powers, committees, and so forth. For management, they define authorities, expectations about support for the board, and so forth. Without knowing the rules of the game between board and management, it is easy to fall into micromanagement and not even realize it.

What to do?

If you are staring at a glaring hole with any of the above tools, start putting together a plan to fill the hole. If none of these are glaring, look to your past history for what was out that caused a member of your leadership to turn to micromanagement to feel safe. Ultimately no one enjoys micromanagement, whether on the giving or receiving end. If you could use a hand talking through options and ideas to get your organization back on track, drop us an email for a free consultation. Whether your organization’s micromanagement is at the board level or somewhere further down the chain, we would be happy to give you some tips and tools to get started working your way out.