‘We are micromanaging our employees to death’

    A natural reaction for many companies in the Great Recession has been to tighten managerial controls on everything from office supplies and cold-call sales schedules to travel expenses.

    To be sure, frugality, accountability and efficiency have their places in the first aid box of successful business strategies – to a point.

    It’s when micromanagement goes too far, however, that it costs American companies up to $300 billion a year, according to Brian Carney and Isaac Getz, authors of "Freedom, Inc," a new business book subtitled, "Free Your Employees and Let Them Lead Your Business to Higher Productivity, Profits, and Growth."

    The authors challenge the mindset of micromanaging "how companies" that establish a strong corporate hierarchy, where creativity and out-of-the-box thinking are discouraged, "where ideas die on the long journey through the corporate committee maze."

    Instead, the authors celebrate "why companies" that empower their employees with an understanding of why they’re doing what they do and the power to make decisions based on that knowledge.

    The book, which is published by The Crown Publishing Group in New York, chronicles the success of "superstar why companies," two of which are based in southeastern Wisconsin.

    Sussex-based Quad/Graphics Inc. founders Harry and Tom Quadracci are cited in the book for being years ahead of their time when they created QuadTech, a division to sell the company’s innovative equipment, even to the firm’s competitors.

    The Quadraccis empowered Karl Fritchen to start QuadTech’s own local sales and distribution network in Japan, rather than partner with just one Japanese company.

    "OK, sounds like a good idea," Harry Quadracci told Fritchen. "I want you to stay in Japan, find office space, hire staff and then when you’re all done, come back to the board and explain why we did this."

    Fritchen recalled, "He (Harry Quadracci) didn’t say, ‘Put together a plan, present it to the board, get approval, then go back and do this.’ My previous employer was so radically different that I just fell in love with this place immediately when I walked in."

    Fritchen went on to become the chief executive officer of the highly profitable QuadTech.

    "The feeling you get as an employee to have that happen to you, you want all your employees to have that same type of feeling and commitment to your organization," Fritchen said.

    The book also chronicles how former CEO Richard Teerlink transformed Milwaukee-based Harley-Davidson Inc. from being a stodgy, old-line manufacturer into a dynamic, celebrated, publicly traded iconic brand. The throttle of the company’s turnaround was accelerated by Teerlink’s "liberating" leadership style that created a culture of devotion and ownership among its workforce, according to the book.

    Teerlink’s successor, Jim Ziemer, who started his career at Harley as a union worker, said he inherited a leadership culture that he grew to understand and appreciate. "It is like a religion, it is spiritual. You’ve got to believe in it and act like it’s a religion … Sometimes, maybe, command and control is great, but … if you don’t have the same leader, then it does not sustain itself. If it is a religion, it can sustain itself."

    The authors contend, "We are micromanaging our employees to death … Freedom works because we don’t know what we do not know, and because some of what we think we know is wrong – or soon will be. If we can harness the additional knowledge of more of our peers, we can move much faster than the bureaucracy. And the only way to harness that knowledge is to allow those who possess it to act on it when necessary, right away – NOW – without waiting for some boss to approve it."


    Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.

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