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Ben Horowitz on task-relevant maturity and micromanagement

Yesterday’s post lead me to this piece from Ben Horowitz about the idea of task relevant maturity, an idea he lifted from Andy Grove:

Everyone knows that the hyper-controlling manager with the severe personality disorder who micromanages every crummy decision is no fun to work for. However, it is wrong to condemn the practice of micromanagement on that basis.

Specifically, there are times and situations where micromanaging executives is not just ok, but also the right thing to do. Andy Grove has an excellent explanation of this in his classic book High Output Management, where he describes a concept called “Task Relevant Maturity”. Andy explains that employees who are immature in a given task require detailed training and instruction. They need to be micromanaged. On the other hand, if an employee is relatively mature in a task, then it is counterproductive and annoying to manage the details of their work.

This is also true when managing executives. Marc might think that he hires an executive because she has the experience and know-how to comprehensively do her job, so any detailed instruction would be unwise and unwarranted. Marc would be wrong about that. It turns out that even — and maybe especially — executives are also immature in certain tasks.

It is almost always the case that a new executive will be immature in their understanding of your market, your technology, and your company — its personnel, processes, and culture. Will the new head of engineering at Ning walk in the door with Marc’s understanding of the development process or the technology base? Would it be better for this new head of engineering to make guesses and use her own best — not so good– judgment, or for Marc to review the first say 20 decisions until the new exec is fully up to speed?

In reality — as opposed to Marc’s warped view of reality — it will be extremely helpful for Marc [if he were actually the CEO, which he is not] to meet with the new head of engineering daily when she comes on board and review all of her thinking and decisions. This level of micromanagement will accelerate her training and improve her long-term effectiveness. It will make her seem smarter to the rest of the organization which will build credibility and confidence while she comes up to speed. Micromanaging new executives is generally a good idea for a limited period of time.

Ben Horowitz, Counterpoint: Ben Horowitz on Micromanagement

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...