Human error is ever present. People make mistakes. Sometimes a mistake will cause a lot of problems for one or more customers, and might well cause additional problems for the organization. Too often, after a mistake of this sort happens, a manager will decide that she must micromanage that situation to make sure the mistake is not repeated.

I’ll give you a specific example. To understand this example, it’s important to understand that in the luxury hotel business, labor is the biggest controllable cost. Schedule too many people on a given day and profit suffers. Schedule too few people and the guest experience suffers. Department managers spend a lot of time ensuring that the schedule is right. On this particular occasion, a manager scheduled too few people, causing many complaints – not only from guests, but also from employees. It was a mess.

To prevent this from happening again, that manager’s boss issued a directive that she must approve all schedules in advance. This directive applied to about seven department managers, each of whom made a schedule every two weeks. This decision created a lot of extra work for that executive, who became a bottleneck in the process. And it hurt the morale of her managers. Moreover, the accuracy of the various schedules did not improve. The cure was worse than the disease.

When you’re tempted to start micromanaging in response to a mistake, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What problem are you trying to fix?
  2. How often does this problem occur?
  3. What are the monetary and non-monetary costs you’ll incur if you seize control?
  4. Is micromanaging this situation the best use of your time?
  5. Are these additional costs worth the benefits?

There will be times when your answers to those questions lead to the conclusion that taking control is the best solution. But it’s likely that once you answer those questions, you’ll probably decide to seek other solutions.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

 Larry Sternberg is the co-author of  Managing to Make a Difference (Wiley), a handbook for hitting the sweet spot of middle management. He also serves as the Talent Plus Fellow, performing duties as an oft-requested speaker and consultant.