Managing detail: What’s WHY got to do with it?

No detail please, we’re too important!

No matter your role or level in an organisation, there’s a pool of detail to dive into if you choose.

Whether you’re a first level manager or the CEO, detail is there, following you around like a shadow. Some regard it as an evil, which they’re determined to ignore (not my job!) while others embrace detail wholeheartedly to become a supreme micromanager (not the outcome we want either).

So how do you find a balance?

Pieces of a jigsaw: Details, why, Results; StrategyYou may think that the CEO, especially in a larger organisation, is running around, getting their photo taken whilst doing incredibly important things.

You don’t know what those incredibly important things are, and they don’t know the detail you’re working on either. What’s more, many of them don’t care.

Okay, there’s a mission statement. Hopefully, there’s a published strategy, but you still don’t get what the CEO does. But you reckon it’s important.

This is the reality because it’s the perception of a large number of employees in companies that have some stuff to sort out.

Attitude to managing detail

In a company, attitude to detail can be the difference between a successful company achieving results, with an engaged workforce who love where they work, or an organisation that looks like the opposite.

In the company that’s not doing so well, employee churn is high, targets are set and missed, and the company appears to be self-sabotaging themselves with a failing strategy (i.e. …we must increase product line X sales. Hey, here’s an end of quarter discount on product line Y! Post mortem: why didn’t you sell more X?).

It’s time to confess

I’ve been known to utter, “less detail please!” in conversations with the team.

When you’re in back to back meetings, with the pressure of target X, and strategic imperative Y, you often want the executive summary version of the ‘I need this, I want this’ request that’s in your inbox. If the team have a tactical ask for software package X or are putting a proposal in front of me to reorganise department Y, I will probably do these 2 things:

1: Approve the tactical ask – I get it, it’s a quick decision. They can’t do their job without it.

2: The more complex decision on the proposal – I park that. Well, I just bury it actually. Can’t think about it now, it’s one tiny corner of the business. I’ve bigger things to think about.

But there’s the heart of the matter.

Asking questions especially ‘Why?’ is powerful for managing detail

Painted question mark on a tree trunkMake sure you’re taking the time to ask the ‘Why’.

Spending time and making a habit of asking ‘Why’ with some rigour, through the layers of a proposal, or to a project team, makes people give further thought and consideration to an important assignment that without your prompting, may not happen otherwise:

“What’s the benefit and outcome of this request/proposal/decision/process/people, or technology?”

Asking at all levels in the organisation is key.

Examining some aspects and layers of a program or project and looking under the hood/bonnet has to be done.

Start with the Outcomes in mind

Listen to the answer you get and start with the outcomes in mind.

If your team presents you with the executive summary that directly links to the outcomes and answers the ‘Why’, you’re likely in a good place to make an informed decision. And, where your team is larger, trust your managers and leaders in the organisation to be making those good, informed decisions.

Challenge & Review

Challenge them: do they know the detail, are they asking Why?Playing draughts

Are there regular quarterly business reviews as a matter of course in all departments as standard?

It’s incredible how many organisations don’t do that.

Opportunities to ask Why, to iterate and to improve are lost because further up, someone doesn’t care enough about what they see as too much detail, which it seems to them – isn’t important and doesn’t matter.

Let’s be clear, we’re not proposing that you manage every piece of detail in your role, especially as your team gets bigger: it’s physically impossible and isn’t an intelligent strategy.

But, you’re accountable for that detail, because it’s part of YOUR BIG PLAN. You must understand how each piece ties to outcomes, as well as those big headline results and strategies you’re implementing.

If you’re not achieving them, ask yourself: is your team a victim of ‘No detail, please, we’re too important!’?

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