The Real Business Costs of Undermanagement

All across the workplace, at all levels of organizations in every industry, there is a shocking and profound lack of daily guidance, direction, feedback, and support for employees. That is the basis of undermanagement—the opposite of micromanagement.

Managing is a sacred responsibility. If you are the boss, it is your responsibility to make sure everything goes well. You have to make sure all the work is getting done very well, in a timely manner, all day, every day. If you are the boss, employees look to you first when they need or want something, or when something is going wrong. If there’s a problem, you should have the solution. If you are the boss, you are the one everyone is counting on!

But too many leaders, managers, and supervisors are failing to lead, manage, and supervise. They simply do not take charge on a day-to-day basis. They fail to spell out expectations every step of the way, consistently track performance, correct failure, and reward success. They are afraid to, or they don’t want to, or they just don’t know how to. All across the workplace, at all levels of organizations in every industry, there is a shocking and profound lack of daily guidance, direction, feedback, and support for employees. That is the basis of undermanagement—the opposite of micromanagement.

“So what?” you might say. “I have more important things to worry about at work than whether or not our managers are highly engaged leaders. It might not be ideal, but solving the issue of undermanagement is simply not a priority for our organization.”

It Costs a Fortune

Don’t make the mistake of thinking undermanagement does not have real business costs.

Undermanagement is costing organizations a fortune every day. It robs so many employees of the chance to have positive experiences in the workplace, reach greater success, and earn more of what they need and want. It causes managers to struggle and suffer and deliver suboptimal results. It sours dealings with vendors and customers. Undermanagement is not a household word like micromanagement, but it should be. The negative impact of undermanagement on an organization makes the impact of micromanagement look like a molehill.

These are the costs of undermanagement:

  • Unnecessary problems occur, reducing trust with other teams, leaders, clients, and vendors.
  • Problems get out of control that could have been easily solved, resulting in lots of wasted time, money, and effort.
  • Resources are squandered, meaning you have less in the budget for resources your team would hugely benefit from in the future.
  • People perform basic tasks the wrong way without knowing it, requiring tons of rework and retraining.
  • Low performers hide out and collect paychecks, decreasing team morale.
  • Mediocre performers assume they are high performers, stalling productivity and innovation.
  • High performers get frustrated and think about leaving, or worse, they actually leave and have to be replaced.
  • Managers do tasks that should have been delegated to someone else, inhibiting the team’s potential as a whole.

Just imagine how much many of the above scenarios cost your organization every day, in terms of actual dollars. How much does it cost to replace that great superstar who left? How much does it cost to train and retrain? To replace wasted supplies? To reduce the potential ROI of investments in software solutions? To lose that sale or contract that had no good reason to fail?

Managers Need to Take a Stronger Hand

The problem is that management thinking has gone in the wrong direction for some time now. The three fastest-growing trends in management—the new “management by objective,” forced ranking, and pay for performance—are central to the new high-pressure workplace in which high performance is the only option. But there is a “cart before the horse” type of problem here. The irony is that each of these strategies is intended to make up for the fact that managers don’t take a stronger hand. Yet each of these strategies depends for its success on managers taking a stronger hand! These tactics fail miserably when managers are weak. That’s why these strategies have such mixed reputations.

The punch line is this: There is no end-run solution around the management part of leadership. Those in leadership positions simply must take charge of their people: Spell out goals and expectations, track performance, correct failure, and reward success. These are just the basics of managing people, and anything less is undermanagement.

Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Tulgan is the best-selling author of numerous books, including “Not Everyone Gets a Trophy” (revised and updated, 2016), “Bridging the Soft Skills Gap” (2015), “The 27 Challenges Managers Face” (2014), and “It’s Okay to be the Boss” (revised and updated, 2014). He has written for The New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training magazine, and the Huffington Post. Tulgan can be reached by e-mail at; followed on Twitter @BruceTulgan; or via his Website,


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