While micromanagement has never served a company well, it is especially dangerous in start-ups.
In their early phases, start-ups often pay less and give fewer employee perks than corporations. Nonetheless, they continue to attract talent since start-ups often provide a necessary atmosphere that allows for exponential growth and development. So what happens when a startup entrepreneur turns out to be a tyrant? It has the potential to destroy morale, progress, and, eventually, the start-up itself. I’ve witnessed it firsthand as the co-founder of over 20 start-ups.
On the other hand, empowerment, the polar opposite of micromanagement, may produce outstanding outcomes. For example, I watched the growth of a Japanese gaming start-up, Bank of Innovation, from 80 to 200 people between 2013 and 2014. This expansion was accomplished by senior management empowering a diverse set of workers who were recruited deliberately for their lack of relevant experience. Their wager is that people who are unaware of the industry’s constraints will exceed those limits without even realizing it. Management delegated entire profit-and-loss responsibility for their team’s product to the new recruits. This amount of empowerment instilled inspiration, desire, and an entrepreneurial spirit. It also enabled upper management to identify the finest product managers and allocate them to the most important projects.
When micromanagers lead start-ups, three stumbling obstacles stymie the endeavors.
For starters, micro-managing entrepreneurs struggle to scale their businesses. A lack of empowerment always leads to decision bottlenecks, which slow down execution speed, which is a critical component of scalability. Such bottlenecks also encourage “firefighting,” which occurs when minor problems continue to consume more attention and resources than they should. Finally, high-level, high-impact choices are neglected, and development comes to a standstill.
Second, micromanagement depletes talent. Those drawn to start-ups often desire to create something, to be a part of something greater. Micromanagers cut their wings and are unable to keep outstanding contributors, particularly innovative ones. All businesses must foster creativity, but as innovators, start-ups need it like air.
Lastly, consider the amount of time spent. Micromanaging takes time away from the most critical activities of a founder: thinking about the broad picture, drumming up business, and finding resources to keep things running smoothly. Micromanagement by a founder, as indicated by significant turnover, may turn off prospective advisers and investors.
“You don’t develop a company,” remarked Zig Ziglar, an American motivational speaker who died in 2012. You create people, and people create businesses.”
Building on my favorite phrase, I would say that it is also about creating the finest atmosphere and culture in order to attract the best individuals. Then, only the finest things can be created, since only the best individuals will work on them.
How to empower your team
These guidelines are useful for teams of any size, but they are especially relevant for startups that need to foster a culture of autonomy in order to hold on to their best employees and expand rapidly.
Trust and believe in your team
- Don’t just hand out assignments. Inspire your team to action by outlining your vision and goals.
- Reinforce employee responsibility by stressing that they have the authority to make decisions on their own rather than waiting for you to do everything for them.
- Some of their work, perhaps just their most important initiatives, need to be overseen. These will represent the overall quality of implementation.
Mentor and support your team
- Keep an eye out for any symptoms of discomfort, promote open dialogue about broad plans and tactics, but stay out of specific duties.
- Instead of trying to control every little detail, focus on how you can best contribute to the development of your team.
- Create brand fidelity by focusing on the needs of your staff and delivering results that satisfy them.
Allow room to fail
- Everyone makes mistakes. Just make sure everyone on your team recognizes the need of incorporating their lessons.
- Recognize that employees will sometimes disregard your counsel but stand by them nonetheless. If you try to impose your will on others, you will undermine their empowerment.
- When a decision doesn’t work out, blame should be spread around. If the choice turns out well, be sure to offer credit where credit is due.
If you can’t quickly shift the culture of your start-up, begin by asking your workers to tell you the advantages and drawbacks of the many solutions to a specific problem they confront. Then, progressively explore their opinions regarding the best course of action. As a last statement, say, “I believe in your judgment, proceed.” These statements have the power to boost your employees’ sense of commitment and accountability by giving them a sense of ownership over a choice.