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Micromanagement on Steroids

Posted by Katherine Mandusic Finley, Ph.D., CAE, CFRE, CMP on Oct 24, 2018 12:58:00 PM

Everyone who has ever worked for a board of directors has probably experienced board members who micromanage. Some of these individuals act as if they are on steroids and really “get into the weeds.” For example, at my first board meeting that I attended as a new executive director, the board spent four hours determining what type of shirt they would wear at the upcoming spring convention. They debated the color, the style (golf shirt, t-shirt, dress shirt), and whether the logo would be imprinted on the shirt or embroidered. Meanwhile, they breezed through decisions that really required some thought and greatly affected the future of the association. At another association, a board president called me at home on Labor Day to “stop the presses” on printing the board book. I had sent him an advanced copy, and it had 24 tabs in it. He wanted 25 and felt that I had incorrectly combined two sections that needed separate tabs. Really? This was worth a call to me on a holiday?

What makes boards micromanage and how can it be prevented, or at least held in check? There are a number of reasons boards micromanage:

  1. The organization may have been either all, or heavily, volunteer-led (with little or no staff) so they have been in the habit of doing everything. When staff was hired, no one delineated what staff roles were vs. volunteer roles.

  2. The staff or executive has accidentally given the board “permission” to micromanage by asking advice on an issue that is within the executive’s role to resolve. The executive may have even just been trying to keep a good rapport with the board by informing them of an issue, but it sends the wrong message and gives the board permission to hold forth on issues that should be handled by staff.

  3. Sometimes the group is just prone to micromanage because that’s what they do in their own businesses. For example, small independent businessmen tend to “do it all” and so when they are in a leadership position with an association, they feel they need to do the same. In short, it’s just a habit for them. Also, associations with a lot of retired members, tend to micromanage because they are “bored” members, rather than board members. In short, they want something to do, and have too much free time on their hands.

  4. The board members want to feel they have accomplished something. The broader responsibilities of the board may not give them the satisfaction of getting something done.

If your board or certain board members are into micromanagement, how do you get them out of it?

  1. If this is the first time a board member exhibits the tendency to micromanage, “nip it in the bud” by thanking them for the offer of help but telling them that this is the staff’s responsibility.

  2. Don’t inadvertently ask them to micromanage by asking them advice on a problem that really is within the staff’s or executive’s responsibility.

  3. Have a consent agenda which includes reports and minutes, and make sure the rest of the agenda items relate to policy and strategic planning and direction.

  4. Regularly hold a board orientation and clearly delineate the roles of the board and staff.

  5. Give “bored” board members and board members who want to accomplish something a task that they can do that will give them a sense of accomplishment. Try putting them on a task force that is responsible for producing a report on a strategic issue.

  6. Screen potential future board members carefully.

Even with these suggestions, I am sure that as long as there are boards of directors, there will be board members who feel their role is the day-to-day operations of the organization. Hopefully, these suggestions will mitigate and maybe even eliminate “micromanagement on steroids.”

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