Simon Terry

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Micromanagement & Autonomy

One consequence of better communication is little discussed. Better communication has enabled the school of management that micromanages employees. We would do better to use our communication technologies to enable our employees to realise their potential.

Management in the Dark

We are starting to forget what the world was like before pervasive communication. Read about the beginnings of our modern organisations in the 19th century and you are always surprised to consider the barriers communication presented. 

The flipside of the barriers to communication also meant that managers had autonomy. Before the railroad and the telegraph, you didn’t need to be very far away at all to be required to manage your branch, factory or location with complete autonomy. All the decisions required to run a business like hiring, sourcing, pricing, distribution, financing and distributing profits, were managed by local managers. There were no alternatives. There was simply no way to seek guidance in time for most of the decisions required to succeed in the market. The need to trust a manager in these circumstances meant that many corporations relied on family members, trusted associates or had real limits to their scale.

Global Micromanagement

Enhanced communication technology has enabled organisations to manage their business on a global scale. The two-way flow of information has enabled trust to develop in the use of cadres of independent managers. It has also allowed those with less trust in their managers to micromanage on a scale that has never before been possible.

Look at the marketing materials for big data and HR analytics offerings. Many of these solutions are promoted as ways to know more about your business and the actions of your employees than ever before. The ‘golden goose’ school of management then dictates that you tightly manage your employees leveraging the rivers of data, the ability to adjust process controls and to communicate in real time. These communications are increasingly mechanistic and some even claiming value in automating them. Increased efficiency of your employees is the goal. However, that efficiency represents a massive trade-off in effectiveness of employees and the organisation.

Better Understanding, Alignment and Trust

Once again organisations are facing the need to drive autonomy of employees. Because of the pace of our economies driven by modern communication technology, we have arrived again at a point where autonomy is required. In the past, communication was too slow to meet a competitive local market. Now communication in the competitive global market is too fast. Employees can’t anymore wait for advice from head-office or be constrained by a policy that no longer refects circumstances.

We need to recognise that the alternate opportunity of better communication is better understanding, better trust and better alignment. With better connection, we can enable people to achieve exponentially better performance because we have the foundations of trust. If we chose a human approach over a mechanistic one, we can leverage the many human talents of our people. That diversity has far greater value than relying on only the decisions of an all-powerful all-seeing management team.

Global communication technologies have made learning the competitive advantage in the modern organisations. Now that they also allow a massive scale increase in understanding and trust, why wouldn’t we want to involve all our people in leveraging their insights, talents and knowledge?

The future of work is not better micromanagement. The future of work is how we better realising human potential. That will take trust and human connection.


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