Don’t Micro-Manage the Forest

Don’t Micro-Manage the Forest

It’s a typical misstep for small business owners, getting so involved with the details that they fail to see the big picture. Or, in business lingo, they micro-manage in lieu of strategically managing.

In many ways it’s a natural path to follow, this inclination to micro-manage. Think about it. A “small business” by definition usually has few, if any, employees in addition to the owner. Few employees = someone’s got to the work. If it’s a new business, the owner typically has a lot on the line and is, consequently, counting on the business succeeding. What better way to ensure its success than to just “do it yourself?”

If you are a business owner with already a modicum of “kind A” in you (which, almost by definition, most business owners have), then these are likely your natural tendencies. The problem with hyper-focusing on the details is the danger of missing the forest for the trees.

Here’s an example. Joe owns a muffin shop. He has invested his life savings into the start-up and is determined to make it work. He is a baker by trade, so he has the applicable experience. He has enough working capital to hire one employee in addition to himself. He labors over the muffin recipes, tests them, runs them by focus groups and perfects them. He opens his muffin shop for business.

He keeps the muffin recipes in his head for “security” reasons and teaches his employee how to make them, all the while looking over the employee’s shoulder. He corrects, he critiques, he criticizes, and no matter what the employee does, the muffins just don’t taste like Joe’s “perfect” muffins. All of Joe’s attention is focused on the muffins. In the meantime, front of the house customer service suffers, marketing efforts are inadequate, and the window of opportunity afforded by customers’ excitement over visiting a new muffin shop has disappeared. The shop’s reputation is ruined.

Where did Joe go wrong? He did his homework. He labored over, tested and perfected his recipes, right? What he failed to do was create a muffin “plan” that could be followed by anyone that stepped into his kitchen. He was afraid to “let go” of the recipes and, as a consequence, felt he needed to micro-manage the muffin making course of action. He was so overly focused on making the muffins, that he neglected to “make the business.”

Granted, it’s a simplified example, but it illustrates the point. Details are important, but so is informed delegation. Joe lingered too long in his “comfort zone.” He was a baker by trade, so he lingered over the part of the business he knew best. The better strategy would have been to mentor his employee to take over the part Joe knew best and to focus his own efforts on learning and perfecting the business part of the business.

This tends to be the downfall of most new skill-based businesses. Many a painter, lawn care specialist, plumber, artist, etc. have failed because – while they excelled at their skills (a.k.a. the “trees”) – the failed at the business part of the business, which is all about the “forest.”

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