Micromanagement and more: What causes “trouble at t’mill” in 2017

The old cliché of problems in an organisation is reflected by the phrase “there’s trouble at t’mill.” This old chestnut from the industrial era was generally an appeal by a worker to the boss to come and sort out the problem.

The problem is, in modern companies, many bosses contribute to the cause of the problems rather than the solution. Let’s look at some of the reasons for this although, the list could truly be a lot longer than we have space for here!

Firstly, micromanagement is an issue in many offices, and often occurs when leaders have not developed trust in their staff. They continue to see themselves in terms of the expert skills and aptitudes that created the business, but do not necessarily manage it in a way that supports the best needs of the organisation. They fail to develop others who are demonstrating those skills as the company grows and becomes more complex. Micromanagement is a by-product of poor leadership development and an inability to let go of a past wherein a leader had ultimate control. The head of the company fails to accept a new present where they must learn to relinquish past professional and trade skills, and become instead a strategic and operational manager. They must loosen their grip on the reins to allow talent within the ranks to flourish.

Then, some leaders have an inability to manage the relationships between key players in the company. Classically, this could manifest itself as a board that has unclear leadership processes, or via innate tensions that have not been dealt with and left to fester.

As an example of the former, where an unclear leadership process is present, consider a trading partnership that evolved into a limited company, when no one person is nominated to be overall leader. Here, different collectives of fudged leadership emerge from within, each group thinking that they’re doing what is right for the overall strategy of the company, however ultimately, there is no direction. There is an inability or an unwillingness for the company to elect someone able to make a casting decision. Roles and responsibilities may have been assigned early on, when the business had limited staff, with directors taking on a plethora of tasks. They then fail to properly delegate these out to new functionaries as the business grows, and the leadership structure appears undefined and lacking clarity.

An example of the latter, where innate tensions are left unchecked, is an organisation formed based on friendship or a shared strategic consensus, and the key players’ objectives have moved on without referring back to one another. At the top of an organisation, the importance of space to allow interpersonal communication to occur to ensure people are on the same wavelength, or at least understand each other’s differences, can be a massive way of reducing powerful tensions that can otherwise ensue.

Also, there are the issues caused by the lack of succession strategies. I really have problems with people who quote Latin ad nauseam, but this is really the ‘sine qua non’ of business strategy! Planning one’s succession is essential, no question about it. Many people actually act as if they’re going to live forever or they are so yoked to the day-to-day grind of keeping the operation running, they fail to take a strategic view which includes what will happen as they age, potentially become infirm and/or expire. Companies in maturity cannot be growing, thriving entities without the time to think and plan ahead. The scenario just described places a premium upon over-dependency on the leading lights of the organisation. It creates a sense of time-based hierarchy, that cannot be replaced easily by successive generations, who are undermined in their autonomy by owners, leaders and managers who effectively act as if they were “tribal elders”, eliciting worship rather than initiative from their staff as they go.

The problem with business is that it is intertwined with the ego. This, in turn, is interwoven with effective functioning, self-actualisation, good and bad mental health and satisfaction. That applies, not only to the leading lights of the organisation but everybody right down to the office cleaner! While everyone would love to think the world would stop turning without them, we must accept that indeed, it will. Sensible leaders are the ones that understand their finiteness with some humility, maturely recognising the need to plan for the longer game; that they do not feature at the centre of it forever more. With this realisation, the “ego” in business evolves into “managerial maturity and leadership insight.”

Of course, would that these issues were so simple to consider. They require dedicated time and though to be effectively addressed, talking to a coach or mentor can help in examining the multiple layers of these processes. The truth is simple: all leaders have the potential to be the solution to business problems rather than their cause.

The fact that this time to reflect is an investment only rarely committed to by some leaves small wonder that so many businesses experience “trouble at t’mill” times.

Ee bah gum!