The Cost of Micro-Management

When I was first introduced to the theory behind creating a Six Sigma sampling plan, I immediately thought about a former manager I had many many years ago in my full-time permanent employment days, and my anxiety began rising at the thought.

This article outlines an innovative approach to applying six sigma processes to talent management.

Six Sigma Sampling

Sampling is the process of selecting a subgroup from a larger population group. The idea is, you can study the subgroup, then apply your findings to the larger group. Creating a sampling plan includes multiple steps, one of which can be the development and execution of In-Process Control.

In-Process Control

In order to discover problems before you’ve gone too far down the rabbit hole, whether you’re manufacturing a microchip or creating a presentation deck, In-Process Control dictates that the more checkpoints you have, the sooner you’ll find an issue if one arises. Then, the sooner you find an issue, the less it will cost to fix it, since you won’t be moving a defective product or service through the rest of the process.

But the more checkpoints you have in a process, the higher the cost of controlling that process, so you’ll need to decide just how important it is to get the output (the microchip or presentation deck) as close to perfect as possible.

Now, if you’re building a rocket that’s bringing astronauts to Mars, you’d better believe your In-Process Control will include every possible checkpoint. I’d hope, anyway.

Going back to my anxiety: We’ve all experienced a manager who strongly believed that every-single-thing you do is just as important as bringing those astronauts to Mars.

Quick note: it’s not.

There could be a variety of reasons this belief system exists. Many of us struggle with accepting that life is not something one can control all the time; that the universe is simply taking us along for the ride and it’s how we react that dictates whether we stay on the racing line, or if we go off into the gravel. Or maybe it’s not something so meta, and some people just have the villain gene. Whatever the reason, it’s often a direct report who takes the flack when managers are compelled to check up on every move they make.

Ever experience this one?

Kathy, that should be a semicolon. I’m not looking at another slide until you verify that all instances of this have been fixed. How can I trust you to build me a deck for the executive presentation if you can’t do simple grammar??

(Yes, I wrote “can’t do simple grammar” ironically).

The fact is, if you want to get things done in a timely manner and with quality, you need to find a balance between the number of checkpoints in your In-Process Control, and the cost.

So What Are The Costs?

In the Mars rocket example, one main cost is actual money, because it takes a lot of time and effort to test every element of the mechanics, engineering, the code, etc.

However, in the presentation deck example, you could say it’s time spent by both the micromanager and employee, and time = money, but it’s also a HUGE cost to employee happiness and morale. The more you’re in your direct report’s way, the more defeated they get, and the more they talk about it with their coworkers. And bad morale is as infectious as herpes (so I’ve heard); one dip in that pool and the stench of chlorinated absenteeism will linger on your team for longer than your micro-management can survive.

A Message To Managers

This is all to say, the more you drag your highly educated employee through re-living their grade 1 popsicle stick house assignment that Bobby Dean kept knocking over, the cost of micromanagement increases from a happiness and morale issue to an employee acquisition problem, because I assure you, that employee will be gone as soon as that deck goes from final_version_v5 to do-it-again-with-a-whole-new-direction_v10 for the n’th time.


The key in both an In-Process Control plan and an employee management plan is balance and understanding. You need to balance your checkpoints with your costs, and understand the costs: monetary (time, effort) or otherwise (employee happiness).