Culture Change: Why Leaders Should “Micro-Manage”


My boss seems to believe in my way or highway. He micromanages everyone and fires anyone who disagrees with him about anything.

One of the quickest and surest ways to disenfranchise good executives and managers is to micro-manage them! For whatever reason, lack of trust, insecurity, arrogance or ignorance, those bosses who micro-manage their staff tend to have high turnover, low morale, and substandard performance numbers.  First of all, the job is too big for the boss to be on top of everything, second of all no one has all the right answers, and thirdly, it produces a culture of “wait to be told” and “don’t try anything new”.

The most effective leaders focus on the What and the Why, and let their people get on with the How.  They also keep an open door so that concerns and questions can be quickly raised and dealt with. They don’t micro-manage, they support and monitor.

Okay, that works in almost every business situation except . . .

Culture Change and “Coachable Moments”

Imagine this very real scenario:

 A company VP passes the open door of a manager’s office. Inside several managers and staff are gathered. She overhears the following: “I’m really upset. Those morons in Purchasing have messed up my customer order again. They just don’t care down there. Next time they want help from me they can just forget it!”

 Choice time. Should she step in and get involved in what is obviously behaviours that are not in alignment with the company value of teamwork, or walk on by, not wanting to be a micro-manager?

Nine times out of 10 she walks on by, saying to herself, “It’s just a few people blowing off steam and not worthy of senior management involvement. I shouldn’t micro-manage everything! After all, it’s not even my department”. 

When it comes to culture change, it is critical to micro-manage.  I’m not talking about normal business issues or telling people how to things, but executives and managers must get fully engaged with behaviours that are out of alignment with the culture the company wants to build. After all, culture change is really about behaviour change, and most behaviour inside a strong culture is habitual, more of a reflex or a habit than a consciously chosen set of actions.

Old habits need pointing out.  We all need someone to help us see our old habits before we can change them.  Posting new Values on the wall will not help people change old habits of behaviour. It takes the active engagement of leaders.  They need to micro-manage behaviours, not to walk by and avoid or ignore old behaviour habits.

During the early days of any culture change programme, it is important for senior managers and executives (everyone really, but it starts at the top) to micro-manage situations where old habits of behaviour are in conflict with the new culture. Without such “micro-management” interventions, you can guarantee it will be business as usual.

The hardest thing to explain is the glaringly evident which everybody has decided not to see. ~ Ayn Rand

How many ‘coachable moments’ have you walked right by? Does your management team understand it is their job to engage and redirect behaviours? To micro-manage old behaviours into new ways of thinking and behaving?

 And you think coachable moments are few and far between? Here is statistic from the 2013 Deloitte Core Beliefs & Culture survey of over 1000 employees and 300 executives . Basically (and on this they agree) both executives (81%) and employees (86%) believe that declared cultural behaviors are not upheld inside their organizations. That means a significant number of behaviours and actions not in alignment with the desired culture are either ignored or tolerated.

You get the culture you tolerate! You reinforce the behaviours you ignore. You build the culture you want through engaging in ‘coachable moments’. By micro-managing the new culture into existence. And building and sustaining a culture is everyone’s job!

So, let’s all become micro-managers, for the right reasons!

Written and Posted by:

John R Childress
Senior Advisor on Corporate Culture, Leadership and Strategy Execution
Author of LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture and FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid


PS: John also writes thriller novels




not plans or project details, but behaviours!

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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