Superinvestor Warren Buffett once observed that more money doesn't change people so much as amplify their essential traits. "Of the billionaires I have known...." he declared, "If they were jerks before they had money, they are simply jerks with a billion dollars."
Buffett's "jerk doctrine" applies equally well to the growing digital wealth of managers and leaders. Technology seems to make managerial control freaks even freakier and the empowerers more empowering. Social media platforms and apps — LinkedIn, Jive, Yammer, SharePoint, Klout, etc. — pervasively proliferating inside the enterprise have made it easier for obsessive-compulsive leaders to compulsively obsess and for trusting leaders to trust (but verify.) Instant access and cloud has compressed the "mean time to meddling" to milliseconds for micromanagers. By the same token, more trusting and nurturing managers increasingly have the luxury to tacitly monitor their people and projects and choose when to intervene.
More cynically, these tools appear to polarize the managerial marketplace: They help make good managers better and make the bad ones worse.
At one global IT firm, a project manager famous for being picky beyond belief crafted an intranet crawler that alerted him to any email discussing changes in schedules or delivery dates. Any suggestion that something might slip or be ready earlier than expected drew his immediate involvement. Needless to say, many of his people now use their personal email accounts to share information about project status. His technically excellent managerial surveillance literally drove dozens of his managers off the company network.
Conversely, a senior account executive with a reputation for mentoring regularly sends links and recommendations to her people via her tablet inviting them to follow-up if they need support on the business issues they raise. She knows her key people well enough to become more involved if they seem disaffected or disengaged in their response. She has made it her rule to respond to any and all inquiries from her people before 9pm. "It's easy for me to share with them and I try to make easy for them to share with me," she confides. "There are no surprises anymore." As best I can tell, her folks think she's terrific.
The underappreciation of "technology temperament" helps explain why so many organizations experience mixed returns and results from their digital media investment. Yes, organizations strive for "best practice" standards and norms in key business processes. But people really are people. The same technology that allows a process to be standardized and scaled is exactly the same technology that lets an inveterate micromanager aggressively assure that everyone's complying with the rules every day. Another manager working with that exact same process will bring the tone and temperament of trust to their oversight. Who do you think is likelier to get the more motivated workforce with the better morale and concomitant results?
Remember, technology makes meddling a marginal cost. The cloud and Web 2.0 intraenterprise platforms make micromanagement faster and easier than it has ever been. Digital innovation has been a gift for obsessives and interferers worldwide. And, if organizations aren't careful and conscious, the way they assign accountability invites the worst aspects of a meddler's temperament to materialize. The line between "trust" and "verify" quickly blurs.
Every manager needs to review their last 100 network communications — text, email, SharePoint, LinkedIn, etc. — and ask themselves: What's the mix between messages that might be interpreted as management, micromanagement and mentoring? Am I giving in to temptations that will corrode trust? Or am I using these technologies in a way that brings out my better managerial self?