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The 3-Step Cure for Micromanagement

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No one wants to work for a micromanager, and God forbid that anyone should call us a micromanager. Yet, the only way to avoid is to delegate decision-making authority. Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs do not know how to delegate effectively.

In the process of doing research for our book, Let Go to Grow; why some businesses thrive and others fail to reach their potential, we interviewed the owners of more than 100 small and mid-size businesses. One of the consistent patterns we found was that entrepreneurs had difficulty effectively delegating decision-making authority. The primary reason is that it's hard for most entrepreneurs to give up a measure of control. Many owners are afraid of what will happen if they aren't in control. The alternative is micromanagement.

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Yet, if their businesses are to continue to grow, these owners will have to overcome their reticence to let go. Failure to do so will mean that the principal's workload will continue to increase as the enterprise grows. At some point, he/she will be overwhelmed and out of capacity. The business will stop growing because the owner can't take on any more work. These business owners will unwittingly become the constraint to growth in their own businesses.

This is a bad situation, but the only thing worse than not delegating when needed is delegating before the proper infrastructure is in place. Doing so can send the business spiraling out of control before the owner realizes what is happening -- we've seen it all too often. Fear of this is what causes many entrepreneurs to be reluctant to delegate.

You can avoid being a micromanager by safely and effectively delegating decision-making authority. Letting go requires putting the proper infrastructure in place. This means three things:

1. Hire the right managers. Delegating before the right people are in place is a recipe for disaster. Unfortunately, getting the right managers often requires difficult decisions, because it can mean layering or replacing loyal employees who simply do not have the skill set to become managers. Although the decision can be gut wrenching, failure to make the tough call can cripple a businesses.

Related: When It's Appropriate to Micromanage

2. Document processes. It's not very sexy and no one will pay a nickel more because you have well-documented processes. Even so, once a business reaches the point where the owner cannot be personally involved in every transaction, good process documentation is the best way to communicate to employees exactly how you want things done. It ensures that things are done consistently across an expanding enterprise and provides a basis for continuous improvement.

If every employee does things in the same way and one of them identifies a way to improve the process, it's relatively easy to propagate the improvement across the entire organization. However, if each worker makes the product or delivers the service differently, the process improvement will only be useful to the person who identifies it -- the others are doing things in a different way to begin with.

3. Establish robust metrics. This is what enables a business owner to know what is going on in the bowels of the organization even though he/she isn't personally there. Good profit and loss statements are necessary, but not sufficient. For example, tracking the number of shipments that are currently late can let the owner know if there is a problem with on-time deliveries while there is still time to fix things. Left uncorrected, this problem will eventually show up in the reports as a decline in sales, but by that time, the damage is done -- the customers are gone. Good metrics are what allow a business owner to sleep at night.

With a solid infrastructure in place, business owners can confidently delegate decision-making authority to their managers -- without it, delegation can be a recipe for disaster. Developing a proper infrastructure takes a lot of work, but the results are worth the effort.

Related: Taming Your Inner Control Freak

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