Why Micromanage Is Not a Bad Word

I don’t typically like business books. Primarily because they talk about what worked but not what didn’t work. When you screw up, you learn. Ben Horowitz gives us the brutally honest truth. He unpacks lessons learned after screwing up in one of the best business books I’ve read: The Hard Thing About Hard Things.

My last blog, The Hard Thing, focused on my five favorite themes from the book. Hat tip to Ben, I wanted to bring to life my own personal screw ups and subsequent applications to those five themes.

The best of Ben in the eyes of Tia:
  1. There is no secret to being a successful CEO (or any other executive position). However, one skill is critical: focus and make the best move when there are no good moves. Spend zero time on what you could have done, and devote all of your time on what you might do.
    • Tia’s application: I have found the only way to focus and make the best move when there are no good moves is centered around three things:
      • Ask questions. How simple, yet for many, so difficult. At HP I learned MBWA (management by walking around), a skill set that defined the HP culture. The principle: get out of your cube/office and sit with individuals that don’t report to you, have a conversation and...
      • Listen. Don’t give direction. That is your management team’s job. Listen and ask more questions. What you learn will enable you to pull themes (strengths, opportunities and all out fires) for you to address with your leadership team.
      • Decide with command and control. This next step makes or breaks organizations. You are the leader. Make a decision. So many leaders are afraid to take command and control. If you accomplish steps one and two, command and control is not a threat. It is welcomed and develops a strong culture and loyal team.
  2. Take care of the People, the Products and the Profits – in that order. Things always go wrong and the only thing that keeps an employee at a company? She likes her job.
    • Tia’s application: There are six fundamental needs that people have in common, and all behavior is simply an attempt to meet those six needs. The secret to taking care of people is to know which need they prioritize and coach and develop to that need (which can, and will, change).
      • Certainty: assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure
      • Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli
      • Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed
      • Connection/Love: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something
      • Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding
      • Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others

        I had two strong direct reports. One was motivated by title and pay (Significance), the other by span of control and influence (Growth). When I restructured the team roles & responsibilities, I had to address each of these in a different way while doing what was right for the company. Not always easy.
  3. Hire for the role you need now. Not the one for tomorrow.
    • Tia’s application: Under the pressure of building a team and delivering results quickly, I hastily hired a network friend. The issue was twofold. First, I never directly managed this person and overestimated the contribution to my past team’s success. Second, I ignored my instinct that was telling me it was not a good fit for the task at hand. I ignored both of these issues, hired the network friend and fired that person 6 months later. I learned a hard lesson comprised of three things:
      • Take time to hire the right person for the right job. That bad hire cost me almost a year of forward progression. I was lucky my CEO was humble enough to admit he had made the same mistake. Once. Thanked me for moving quickly. And said, ‘don’t do it again.’
      • Your team is watching. As a leader, your credibility rests on the new hires you bring into the organization. I lost credibility with my new team and peers. I only salvaged it because I admitted my mistake and quickly moved to moving the person out of the organization.
      • Trust your instinct. Your gut is 99% right.
  4. Training is the most important investment for employee retention and scaling a business successfully.
    • Tia’s application: How do you address productivity, performance management, product quality and employee retention? One word, onboarding plan. Never underestimate the power of this document that should take you ~4 hours to complete. Well worth the upfront investment and will deliver 100 times return when you have a fully operational new hire in 90 days or less. 
      When I came to CBR 3 years ago, CEO
      Geoff Crouse gave me a 5 page onboarding document. That document led me to be productive and operating at full capacity in less than 45 days. 
      Since that experience, I have expanded the onboarding tool to include the following eight critical sections:
      • Organizational Background: The hiring manager should be able to articulate, in detail, the state of the organization, personnel strengths & opportunities, the business strategy and execution priorities.
      • Priorities: This is a critical section that will directly apply to performance management. Simply put, if you don’t know what success looks like, you can’t deliver it. I use this section to detail the 3 to 5 critical execution priorities I will hold the new hire accountable for. 100% of the time these priorities have become how I measure performance of a new hire in weekly 1:1s, mid-year and annual reviews.
      • Goals & Objectives: This is defining what success looks for the priorities you just detailed. Measurable and time bound.
      • Onboarding Objectives: In the first 30/60/90 days, what are the objectives you want your new hire to focus on? This is your opportunity to ensure your new hire contributes and establishes credibility immediately. Everyone is watching. It’s on you to make sure the company sees why you selected this candidate.
      • Materials: Define and give access (I like google docs) to the most critical background documents you need this new hire to read and absorb. This is the best time to load people with reading materials. They are excited and have no baggage. This portion will be critical when you start your daily onboarding 1:1s (see bullet vii, 1 below). This material gives your new hire the ammunition to ask you good questions.
      • Overall Approach to Onboarding: This section sets the tone for the first 30 days. It’s the compass for the new hire and outlines expectations for the first 30 days. From my experience, this is a lot better than showing up for the first day of work with the dreaded “meet with HR and set up your computer/desk area.” Your job is to set the productivity and accountability tone from day one.
      • 1:1 Meeting Schedule:  An outline of critical topics to discuss with identified cross-functional leaders and peers plus direct reports. These meetings are scheduled by the new hire. Again, your job is to give this new hire an opportunity to build instant rapport and credibility. No better way to do this than to get them asking questions 1:1.
        • One of the most critical meetings to set up your new hire for success is 30 days of daily 1:1s with you, their direct manager. Yes, 20 days of daily 1:1s. The first 30/60/90 days is the most valuable time for any new hire (including you!). You have no baggage. You are full of new ideas. Desire and intent are high.
          If you follow this onboarding plan detail, your new hire will be drinking from a fire hose. Giving them the daily opportunity to ask questions and privately share observations will lead to quick productivity. In my experience, the first two weeks are spent primarily answering questions. The last two weeks are listening to your new hire structure a plan forward based on initial observations. Baggage free. This also give you an opportunity to identify issues with the new hire quickly so you can coach or move to separation quickly.
      • Recurring Meetings: An outline of weekly recurring meetings that you expect the new hire to attend and contribute. Including the objective is imperative. This gives your new hire instant accountability and line of site to where he/she will make contributions.
  5. Ask questions. Lots of them.
    • Tia’s application: If you’re not asking questions, you’re not listening. If you’re not listening, you aren’t addressing issues and opportunities in your organization. 
      Early in my career, I lost the discipline of regular 1:1s with my team. The outcome? I spent more time chasing down answers and putting out fires. I also did a disservice to my team as I wasn’t developing them professionally. 1:1s are the easiest tool to develop teams. Don’t underestimate the power of these weekly, sometimes daily (yes, daily 1:1s are achievable and valuable!) opportunities to ask questions, listen and guide your team.
In closing, I have a pet peeve/red flag when interviewing candidates for roles on my team. When I ask how you manage a team and the answer is, “I don’t like to micromanage.” My response? Why not?

Two synonyms of ‘micromanage’ is intervene (synonym: mediate/arbitrate) and control (synonym: regulator/governor). It’s your business. You better be intervening and controlling.