Tony Arnold: Are you one of those controlling micromanagers?

Tony Arnold, Founder and Principal, Upfront Management

There are companies out there, which, despite their outward success and public reputation, suffer from a discipline problem. Uncertain about the rationale for undertaking projects or their relative priorities, the staff plods along, half-heartedly working on projects, missing or putting off deadlines and, in the end, creating a need for more work to fix what was missed the first time around.

Leadership, for its part, is unaware of how work gets done, the time it takes and the drain that nonstop executive meetings are placing on the organization. And no one, not staff or management, seems to understand what’s going wrong or who’s accountable.

These are clear symptoms of a lack of discipline and a lack of rigor. In an effort to make faster decisions and speed up the organization, or perhaps eliminate bureaucracy, discipline may have been unintentionally sacrificed.

The problem is a lack of discipline in a business can lead to chaos, wasted resources, low productivity and poor morale up and down the line. A company in this state may, from all outward appearances, be succeeding, but it’s not achieving its true potential.

Keeping the goals, the path, the timelines and the results top of mind at all levels requires discipline and a certain amount of oversight. As a leader, it’s your job to ask the right questions so you can assess how priorities are managed and how work is getting done.

Are you or other executives inadvertently dictating the flow of work or, worse yet, the outcome? Do managers require exhausting reviews and updates, especially in advance of formal meetings?

When is the last time you asked a presenter how long he spent creating the slides for a particular presentation versus working on the content? 

Those are generally process questions, but it’s essential that you ask them. Other questions to ask revolve around the overall business plan and whether the work that’s being done supports the organization’s business goals. A key question in this regard is this: Do managers and staff understand why their work matters and how it fits into the overall plan?

Here’s another important question: Do managers and staff receive feedback on the outcome of their work? If the research a manager completed on deadline by dedicating a month’s worth of nights and weekends was the reason the organization won a contract with a new, plum account, was the manager told about the impact of her contribution and congratulated on her dedication to the organization? Was this done even if her paycheck reflected her share of the commission on the coup?

When exercised by an organization’s top leader and upper-level managers, this type of discipline can serve as an essential guide for employee conduct and job performance. And at the end of the day, it’s worth hundreds of times more than any employee handbook or written job description, regardless of what the organization might have paid a management consultant to create the documents.

How does your organization stack up when it comes to discipline? Are you confident that discipline is alive and well and consistent across your organization at all levels? Or are there departments or functions where discipline has been lost? In the haste to build a more nimble, dynamic organization, have you and your management team lost the rigor and discipline that is so essential to hold chaos at bay, keep staff motivated and engaged and bring reality to your vision?

Discipline starts at the top. It’s up to you to either create or return to a culture of discipline in your organization. Be in touch and grounded so you’re certain that management is aligned and articulates the strategy while applying the right amount of discipline. Step up to this challenge and you’ll step up your organization’s performance, its ability to retain key employees and its standing among your customers.

Tony Arnold is founder and principal of Upfront Management, a St. Louis-based management and executive consulting firm. Utilizing C-suite experience as a CEO and executive experience in early-stage startup and Fortune 100 companies, he brings unique skills, insights and perspective to enable clients to improve business performance. Arnold can be reached at (314) 825-9525 or [email protected]