The difficulties of delegation: Why some managers micro-manage

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Management doesn’t always like to delegate responsibilities. Although there can be significant benefits to a firm from delegating, some managers have a tendency towards making all decisions themselves. Some of these reasons may be rational – management may have a better purview of the whole firm. Other justifications are less rational – not liking ceding control. This article discusses some reasons why managers are reluctant to delegate control – from both the ‘rational’ reasons to the less rational. 

Broad oversight: Ability to see the bigger picture

Consistency in decisions is one of the most important parts of a firm’s strategy. It is important that the decisions made in different parts of the firm align and reinforce one another. One of the reasons why management may want to be involved in decision making is because they have the purview of the whole firm – the ability to ensure that lower decisions are aligned with the overarching strategy. 

While there is some truth that managers may have better oversight of the whole firm, which is important for ensuring consistency in decision making, there is an argument to be made that management would be better placed involving employees in strategy development. The greater that lower employees understand the firm’s strategy, the greater their ability to make decisions that are in line with the overarching strategy.

Belief that opinions are superior

Another reason why management may want to be involved in decision-making is that they believe that their opinions are superior. Potentially you have greater experience or have undertaken similar actions in the past.

Like having a greater understanding of the whole firm, there may be some truth to this argument. Senior management may be more experienced than lower managers. Where this argument starts to fall down though is when more specialized lower managers have more in-depth knowledge or experience in a particular area than their managers. Micro-managing someone who knows’s much more about the area than you do, is unlikely to be beneficial. 

Belief that a manager should be involved in all decisions

Another reason why managers can be resistant to delegating decisions is that they think that managers should be involved in all decisions, and have a full understanding of everything that is happening in the firm. It is easy to see where this perspective comes from – ultimately the buck does stop at the CEO.

The problem with this belief is that although it is possible to achieve in very small firms, it is much more difficult to attain as the company grow’s, and impossible for large firms. At some point in time, holding the belief that as a manager you need to be in control of everything will start to constrain your firm. 

Loss of control

A final reason why managers may not want to delegate decisions is that they don’t like losing control. It is not an easy feeling not knowing precisely what is going on that you are responsible for. While this is not necessarily a good justification for micro-managing, it is at least part of the reason why managers like to retain involvement in lower-level decisions

Final thoughts: Should you consider delegating more decisions?

There are certainly some benefits for management in having involvement and oversight of key organizational decisions. However, excessive control, attempting to micro-managing all parts of the company, can also have clear disadvantages. To see whether you should be delegating more, it is useful to further consider some disadvantages associated with micro-managing

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