November 9, 2018

Is Micromanaging an Aspect of Lean

What is micromanaging? It is when a manager closely observes or controls the work of her or his subordinates with excessive attention to minor details. In micromanagement, the manager not only tells a subordinate what to do but dictates that the job be done a certain way regardless of whether that way is the most effective or efficient one. A pattern of micromanagement suggests to employees that a manager does not trust their work or judgment, it is a major factor in triggering employee disengagement.

Two important factors are at work in micromanagement. First is the lack of trust that the employee will do the job well. Second is the underlying lack of respect regarding the worker’s intelligence and desire to do a good job.

If you have someone telling you how to do your job and monitoring it closely, it sends a message that the worker is not valued. Research has shown that being valued is one of the main factors in loyalty and retention.

How does Lean approach the goals of doing high quality work? The first step is to identify the best way of doing the job today. That would include evaluating worker quality and speed. When we can quantify a superior way to do something, shouldn’t everyone who does that job do it in the best way we know how to do it? That best way is called Standard Work. Standard Work is the best way to do work right now, which also implies we might find a better way to do it tomorrow, and then that way will become Standard Work.

In Lean we encourage and reward people for finding improvements in work processes and the ergonomic aspects of the work space. One of the ways to get workers to focus on improvements is to teach them to find waste. Then we want ideas to shrink or eliminate these wastes.

The most important place in a Lean organization is where the work is done, the Gemba. Consequently, the most important person is the one working in the Gemba. There is intense focus on the Gemba, with managers and supervisors doing “Gemba walks” regularly. In this fashion, lean can resemble micromanaging, but not with the attitude of distrust or disrespect. Quite the contrary, managers and supervisors have an eye for the things that get in the way of the worker. Managers and supervisors have the desire to partner with the worker to make the work processes and work space the most conducive to safe, efficient, and effective activities.

A micromanager would likely blame the worker when something goes wrong. In Lean, the manager would partner with the worker to uncover the root cause and jointly create countermeasures. It might be the workers responsibility to test the countermeasure, and ultimately implement it. We have confidence that the countermeasure will be implemented because the worker was highly involved in creating it. Remember people support what they help create. And people resist, fight, and sabotage what we ram down their throats.

Yes the devil is in the details. However there is a world of difference on how we manage them. If you find this useful, please check out our training class titled Analyzing and Improving Service and Office Operations (Lean Office).

Micromanaging Approach

Lean Approach

Little respect for the worker

The worker is the most important person

Little trust that the work is done correctly

The worker is following standard work

Boss tells me how to do the job

The worker is following standard work

Boss comes up with improvements

Worker engaged in finding improvements

Blame the worker when something goes wrong

Worker and supervisor jointly find root cause, jointly come up with countermeasures, and the worker tests and implements the countermeasures