In Praise Of Micromanaging
By Anne Fisher

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Are you managing enough? Over the past couple of decades, "micromanagement"--defined by The American Heritage Dictionary as managing "with great or excessive control or attention to detail"--has fallen out of favor. Bruce Tulgan, founder and president of Rainmaker Thinking, a New Haven--based consulting and training firm, believes it's high time to bring it back. "At some point, the 'nice guy' manager came into fashion, and bosses started being afraid to act like bosses," he says. "But when we ask employees what they want from the people above them, the first thing they mention is never a raise. It's always more coaching, more guidance, clearer goals, more constructive criticism, and more recognition for achievements." The star performers in any organization always want a certain degree of autonomy and flexibility, of course. "But it turns out that the only managers who succeed in giving their best people flexibility are those managers who are highly engaged and hands-on and demand strict accountability for results," says Tulgan. "So who are the real 'nice guy' managers? Is 'micromanagement' a red herring?"

Or, to put it another way, have we gotten so leery of micro that we've stopped managing altogether? Maybe so. In an effort to figure out how bosses interact with their underlings, Tulgan and his team of coaches have conducted in-depth interviews with hundreds of managers over the past couple of years. They found an "epidemic of undermanagement," he says. (For an executive summary of the research, go to

In what Rainmaker defines as the five management basics--clear statements of what's expected of each employee, explicit and measurable goals and deadlines, detailed evaluation of each person's work, clear feedback, and rewards fairly meted out--it seems hardly anyone is consistently stepping up to the plate. Only 10% of managers provide their direct reports with all five of the basics at least once a week. Only 25% do so at least once a month. And about a third of managers, it seems, fail to get around to the basics even once a year.

So what? Well, without regular attention to these matters, things can go off the rails pretty fast. "Neglecting the five management 'musts' means you're not in a position to anticipate problems, so you spend all your time putting out fires," Tulgan says. "You can't delegate, so you end up needlessly tangled in the details. This is why, when people tell me they don't have time to cover all five basics consistently, I tell them they don't have time not to."

With the job market finally coming out of its coma, this could be a good time to pay more attention to your employees. "You have to retain your high performers one day at a time, one person at a time. Look for the needle in the haystack that is the thing that person wants, and make sure he or she doesn't feel the need to go elsewhere to get it," Tulgan suggests. "Only hands-on, results-driven managers are able to do this"--and, by happy coincidence, to give their own careers a boost as well.