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Limitations of Management by Exception in the Lab

Being labelled a Micromanager is quickly becoming one of the worst stigmas a manager can have. Its antithesis, Management by Exception, has been gaining traction because it can help insulate managers from staff members who waste their time as well as

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Limitations of Management by Exception in the Lab

By Joel Robitaille

Being labelled a “Micromanager” is quickly becoming one of the worst stigmas a manager can have. Its antithesis, Management by Exception, has been gaining traction because it can help insulate managers from staff members who waste their time as well as eliminate direct supervision, freeing up more time to concentrate on important tasks.

Wikipedia defines “Management by Exception” as a "policy by which management devotes its time to investigating only those situations in which actual results differ significantly from planned results. The idea is that management should spend its valuable time concentrating on the more important items (such as shaping the company's future strategic course). Attention is given only to material deviations requiring investigation."

While Micromanaging can be destructive to the individual, there are instances when any other approach would be irresponsible. Conversely, Management by Exception can enrich the role of the individual, and yet it’s easy to think of instances when this approach would be inadequate.

Below are 3 examples where Management by Exception falls short:

1. Safety - While Micromanagers assign responsibility without granting authority, Managing by Exception leaves the responsibility with the individual—unless something goes wrong. In the laboratory, something going wrong can be devastating, even fatal—so the manager’s level of involvement still has to be determined on a situational basis, especially where safety is concerned.

2. Responsibility - Micromanagers demand that employees follow their orders to the last detail, and yet when something goes wrong the blame is still on the employee. Management by Exception is designed to react to a problem, leaving a void in responsibility once a problem arises until an appropriate solution is provided. When it comes to tasks where hazards are involved, any ambiguity in responsibility can have disastrous consequences.

3. Use of Time - People who Micromanage spend a big chunk of their time making sure their employees are following the letter of the law. Those who Manage by Exception trust their employees to implement their training and accomplish their tasks on their own, leaving an abundance of time to focus on more important issues. But wouldn’t it be wise to continue devoting time to observing the activities that are currently sustaining the company?

Management by Exception definitely has its merits, especially when it is used in conjunction with great training and safety education. However, in a potentially dangerous environment, such as a lab, managers should still have a regular presence, with the willingness to manage situations before and after problems arise.

Therefore, it would be prudent to borrow elements of Management by Exception to reap some of the benefits while staying involved as much as necessary. Likewise, there are instances when Micromanagement has its place, such as highly dangerous tasks. But for you staff’s well being, Micromanaging should be confined to tasks, never to people.