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Attention To Detail Or Micromanagement?

by David Brock on January 20th, 2015

Recently, I’ve been involved in a number of heated discussions on micromanagement and attention to detail. Often, at a superficial level, they look the same, but in reality they are very different.

Attention to detail is critical both to individual contributors and managers.  Micromanagement is a waste of everyone’s time–the individual contributor and the manager.

So what’s the difference between these?

I think attention to detail is primarily about learning and development.  Where micromanagement has little to do with either of those things, and is probably rooted in lack of trust or respect.

Let’s look more deeply at attention to detail.

As a sales person, it’s the details that make huge differences in results and outcomes.  We know we have to understand the issues, priorities, attitudes, needs, capabilities of each person involved in the buying process.  We have to understand the complex dynamics between buyers and between our organization and the buyers.  We have to know everything that is going on, what can help us, what can derail us, what helps the customer and what derails the customer.

We also have to understand how to get things done within our organization.  Where do we go for support, how to we engage people to help us, what does management expect, how do we make sure we live up to management’s expectations.

All these things are critical to maximizing our own performance, producing results, and developing our own capabilities.

Likewise, managers must pay attention to details.  They have a responsibility to make sure each person on their teams are doing the right things, with the right people, at the right time to produce the desired results.  This enables them to fulfill their business management responsibilities.  At the same time, they have to understand, where are the individuals having problems, what are those problems, what can they as managers do to help eliminate those problems or help the person overcome them.  They have to understand each person, their strengths, weaknesses, aspirations, working with them to grow their performance and fulfill their long term potential.

Attention to detail involves questioning, probing, understanding, and learning.  It’s always tied with coaching, and helping people improve.

Attention to detail involves knowing what details to pay attention to, when, and how to be helpful.  So for example, in doing a deal review, I might do a deep dive into the deal.  I want to understand what’s going on, explore where there might be challenges, and brainstorm with the sales person how we address them and move forward.  I also want to understand how well the sales person understands and is executing the sales process–where they are having difficulties, help them improve.

So there’s a lot of questioning, probing, discussion in learning these things and in helping the sales person improve.

But by doing this, paying attention to the detail of a deal and their execution of the process, it means I don’t have to do this for every other deal they are working on.  I can trust if they are executing the process well, developing and executing strong deal strategies in a small number of deals, they are likely to be doing the same in every other deal–so I don’t have to take the time to bother them in reviewing every single deal–that moves us into micro management.

So great managers pay a lot of attention to the right details.  They want to make sure sales people are developing and executing strong deal strategies.  That they are managing their pipelines well and have high integrity pipelines.  That they are developing and executing high impact call plans, developing territory and account plans to maximize growth and share, that people are prospecting as effectively as possible.

Attention to detail involves selective inspection to make sure the processes are in control, that people are doing the right things in the right way at the right time.  In this selective inspection, it means you trust the people are acting consistently across everything else they are doing, and you identify areas where you can coach and help develop them.

It is a collaborative process characterized by shared learning and development, mutual respect and trust.

Attention to detail looks to developing solutions and continual improvement.

Attention to detail doesn’t take a lot of time for any of the people involved.  Since it’s selective and since there is always shared learning and development, the time that is spent is always well spent.

Attention to detail always raises the performance of everyone involved.  Since it is characterized by share learning and development, each party improves their performance and ability to contribute.

Micromanagement is completely the opposite.  It is not about learning, it is not about development, and is usually driven by lack of trust and respect.

Micromanagement is characterized by lots of questions, “Why did you do this?  What are you doing here?  What went wrong?”  There is little coaching and development, just a request for information with little feedback and nor sharing with the person of how you the data will be used.

Micromanagement is characterized by lots of direction/telling, “You need to do this…. Go get this done…. Go get the customer to commit to do this…”  There is no explanation why, no room for conversation about whether it makes sense, no coaching in how to get it done.

Micromanagement is characterized by doing these things with everything–every deal, the pipeline, every call, every account, every territory.

There is no room for learning by anyone in micromanagement.

It is driven by distrust–“If I don’t understand everything…..  If you don’t do what I tell you to do…..  You need to tell me everything that’s going on….  Why aren’t you….   What went wrong…. Why did you do it this way…. ?”

Micromanagement focuses on assigning blame.

Micromanagement takes a lot of time from everyone—all of which is totally wasted.

Over time, micromanagement destroys the performance of the organization.  Since it wastes so much time, since there is no learning, since there is no trust, it is destructive to the organization and the ability to achieve goals.

Attention to detail and micromanagement are really quite different.

Be honest with yourself, are you paying attention to detail or are you micromanaging?

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  1. Good article. I worked in a toxic micromanagement situation until I got my self transferred to a new manager and life got a whole lot better.

    As an ADD salesman for the first half of my career, I never appreciated the importance of attention to detail and it never prevented me from getting results.

    Since working on marketing messaging and content strategy for the past 10 years, I have learned that attention to detail is paramount and have had to adopt new methods and processes to get there.

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