The Micromanager’s Guide to the Galaxy


Classically Educated is dedicated to showcasing the largest number of different interesting subjects possible, so we’d be remiss if we didn’t visit the business world every once in a while – after all, a great number of our readers spend most of their waking hours working in an office setting.

The last time we explored the business world, we didn’t exactly focus on best practices and financial wizardry, but instead attempted to identify the dumbest management fads ever.

Perhaps the time has come to do a serious article on business, and explore the trends in… oh, who am I kidding.  There are plenty of excellent business books and blogs to get the good stuff, and the errors are so much more entertaining.

So today, we’ll take a look at the most irritating piece of semi-human fauna one will ever encounter within the workplace ecosystem: the micromanager.  Micromanagement is probably the easiest way to kill any budding buy-in and creativity, both of which are undesirable, because it means that people in the company are treated as adults and have freedoms that many managers are afraid of.  So, in the spirit of making companies a little less threatening to insecure managers, we proudly present a list of the things that make an effective micromanager.

1) Things must be perfect to be released.  There used to be a sign on the wall in Facebook’s offices that said “Done is better than perfect”, which embraced change and gave employees tacit permission to make mistakes in the name of progress.  A good micromanager will always endeavor to act precisely the opposite way.  Things must be perfect, and personally reviewed at least five times by the manager in charge before being released in beta versions.  And employees must be constantly reminded that perfection is the only acceptable result.  If this delays projects constantly and causes missed deadlines, so be it.  There is no replacement for perfection.

walmart deli equipment

2) Some people insist that process is king.  A good micromanager knows that these people are wrong.  Process is not king…  process is GOD.  Strict adherence to processes and regulations is much more important than any positive results that might arise from stepping out of the process structure.  And if any activity within the company is identified as having too few processes, then it must be brought up to standard.  This is especially true if there is a manager who believes in delegating and allowing his people to use their own judgement in charge of that activity, and is doubly true if the department is successful, and therefore undermining the spirit of process-as-God that is being imposed in the rest of the company.

3) Meetings are important.  They are important for two reasons: the first is that everyone must be aligned and agree to follow the process and to iron out all the details regardless of agreed-on dates.  The second is that only in meetings can a micromanager get everyone together to talk about tiny details that they may or not be directly involved with, instead of having people focus on the big stuff first.  That is an important point because, as any good micromanager knows…

Priorities Cartoon

4)  There is no such thing as priorities.  EVERYTHING is equally important.  You cannot have perfection if people insist on doing “important” stuff first, or if sales says irresponsible things like “it’s a billion dollar deal, and all I need is a couple of documents – send me whatever you have right now”.  These people clearly have no sense of proportion and are dangerous to the company.  Be strong and steadfast and never forget rule number one.

5)  Words are important, and only have one meaning.  It is a micromanager’s sworn duty to stop any conversation, no matter how seemingly productive, if another person uses a word that isn’t exactly descriptive of what is being discussed, ESPECIALLY if the meaning is “close enough”.  We’ve talked about this here on CE before, but it’s especially important in a business setting.  People who don’t use exactly the right word are heretics who probably care more about results than about process, and must be corrected – publicly if possible.  Job titles, of course, must be defined with utter precision, because if someone confuses a senior assistant with a junior analyst, it is quite possible the world will end*.

So there you have it!  All you have to do is follow these five simple rules, and the world will work precisely as you wish it to while you are at work.  Even if you are not a manager, they are useful, as who can possibly argue against perfection and precision?  No one will, at least not to your face!  And what you don’t know can’t hurt you, right?

And don’t forget that if you like our Facebook page, you will never miss a post… unless you want to or it irritates you or something.

* And no one wants that unless the proper forms are filled, in triplicate.

PS: a true micromanager will be rereading this post looking to see if all the formatting is correct.  Please don’t fail us!

On Words, as they Relate to Worldview

I once had an online conversation with a writer who really, really doesn’t like me.  We were arguing about something and he responded, that writers should be careful of the words and phrases they use, as they need to be precise.

He was objecting to my use of the phrase “knee-jerk” to describe a decision that he claimed had been taken after consulting everyone involved.  While the original discussion that engendered his comment was never enough to really get my juices flowing, his statement about the importance of precise language stuck with me (you may draw your own conclusions regarding what interests me from the preceding sentence).

Of course, it’s probably a good thing for prose intended for publication to be quickly and easily understandable by the widest audience possible.  But is it really that important outside of the confines of a book?  Even within those confines, I’d argue that a certain amount of transcending the rules is acceptable, so you can imagine that precision in daily language is something that I really don’t think is all that important.

xkcd.com recently summed up my view of this:

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 2.06.02 PM

Link to the original comic here.

Sums it up, doesn’t it?  It just seems to me that if people understand what you’re talking about, it’s fine.  I have worked with a large number of accountants and engineers in my time and, as you can imagine, many of them disagree vehemently with this point of view.  And yes, I’ve seen a strong correlation between people who need everything to be in neat little labelled boxes and people who think this way – but that’s not the point today.  I really want to focus on the language implications, because these are the ones that have more to do – in my opinion – with being a global citizen.

How often do you find yourself involved in a conversation with someone in which language barriers mean that you have to pay attention to the context of what the person is saying in order to be able to understand a particular word?  If you move in the circles I do – and I assume that anyone reading this probably does – you often find yourself trying to understand some heavily accented English, or even trying to make yourself understood by reviving those old French lessons.  When you are in the latter position, my structured adversary is probably not the kind of person you want listening to you.

Experience teaches one to relax this requirement for others, and eventually brings one to understand that it isn’t all that important. I think what irritated me most about the original discussion was that he wasn’t focusing on the message but on the language, which has in human history led to a whole bunch of stupid (including the once-relevant PC parrots) , and is something I can never understand.

So I have more questions than answers for you.  Was he doing it on purpose to bug me?  I doubt it – he seemed genuinely mad at me for using the phrase.  But it was clear from the context that it was just a place holder for “making an insufficiently reasoned decision and the wrong one, to boot”, which leads me to the conclusion that he chose to interpret it that way, and to take umbrage.

In this particular case, it’s his problem…  But what does he need to get over something like this?

Essentially, the best way to get past this is actually to be truly global in your outlook.  A big-picture approach is required, and you really can’t get that from books or from your peers, and you can’t really get that if your main contact with the larger world is online, with people you’ve never met.

So, you ask, where is my nemesis from?

If you guessed he’s an American who doesn’t move too far from his home in the midwest, you get full marks.  No bonus points this time, because we all know it was just too easy.  Of course, this is unfair to many midwesterners who actually have outgrown the limitations of their geography, but such is life when space forces one to generalize…

Anyway, I promised eclectic, and eclectic this blog will be.  Art, travel and guest bloggers are coming now that we’ve goteen some of the philosphy and our first list out of the way…

Stay tuned.