Friday, April 8, 2011

A BOGO Guest Post: "Champagne Test" and "Macroleading"

I couldn't decide which of these two guest posts by David Burkus to select - so I made the easy choice and picked them both. A "BOGO": buy one and get one for free. They're short reads - but I really liked them. Hope you enjoy!

Champagne Test

The other day I was involved in a huge debate over SMART objectives. This clever acronym was developed, and then grossly over-used, to describe a criteria for effective goal setting. Simply put, objectives ought to be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. Our argument centered around the measurable element. My debate foe argued that this meant all objectives had to have a numbered component. Whereas I argued, quite deftly, that a “Yes or No” objective counted as measurable. If you set a goal like become the top ranked office in the region, then you’re measurement is built in: you either did it or didn’t do it.

After reminding him that a “Yes or No” objective could be considered a binary numbering system, I realized the problem with SMART objectives. In an attempt to clarify goal setting, the anonymous authors of this daft acronym actually muddied the waters. Most who bow down at the alter of SMART do so only after vigorous debate about what objectives are SMART, or even what SMART stands for.

I prefer a much simpler test of valuable objectives: the champagne test.

In the champagne test, you set an objective and then test its value by asking “how will our people know when to crack open the champagne?” In essence, you ask how we know if we hit our objective. Consider one of the most renowned objectives of the past century: JFK’s 1961 call to “put a man on the moon.” One can debate whether this goal was SMART, but one can not challenge the certainty of knowing when to pop open the cork.

(Copious thanks to Chip and Dan Heath for introducing me to the concept of the champagne test.)



The other day I was listening to an interview with Henry Mintzberg, legend in management thought. Mintzberg said a plethora of things I am still processing but one thing in particular struck me. Mintzberg said it quickly and then moved on, but my mind won’t let go as quickly as he did.

“Micromanaging isn’t a dangerous as macroleading.”

There’s a near consensus that micromanaging is gone. Whether you pull from empowerment advocates, motivational models or just plain common sense, individual contributors most often want to be given the right resources, told the objective, and be left alone to work. The exception of course being in the early stages of a new work assignment, when supervision and feedback are needed as part of training. Micromanaging can cause decreased in performance and maybe even increases in turnover.

But is macroleading even more dangerous?

Mintzberg defines Macroleading as when leaders get so focused on setting strategy and vision that they remove themselves from the front lines and eventually develop a vision for the organization so out of touch that the rest of the organization fails to buy in…or worse buys in but is incapable of taking any steps toward realization. Macroleadership sets a vision and hopes that performance toward the objective may occur. Yet, if no one knows where to go, then the leader’s efforts have been futile.

Perhaps Mintzberg’s is right. Though the temptation is to stay away and not micromanaging, perhaps leaders need to get involved on the front lines, understand what’s realistic, and then begin doing all the fancy stuff we associate with top-level leadership.

What do you think: micromanage or macrolead? Which is worse?

David Burkus is the editor of LeaderLab, a community of resources dedicated to promoting the practice of leadership theory. He is the author of The Portable Guide to Leading Organizations, the newest release from LeaderLab. He can be reached at


Anonymous said...

Re: macroleading Love it! Good post. What's sad is that I've often run into the direct reports of a "macroleader" defending him/her saying "leaders are supposed to operate at 30,000 feet. They don't have time for the details."

Paul Nicholas said...

Great articles - I'm still digesting macroleadership - but the champagne test has me reaching for a bottle! I can't begin to quantify the damage that's been done by SMART targets (who'd want to do such a stupid thing?)- I've been fighting them for years. Various countering acronyms used to come into play, but the one most repeated to me (so it must have struck a chord and lodged in memories) was DUMB targets - "Don't Use Measurement Bull----"

Jill Malleck said...

I love the champagne test. It's also a great way to help leaders articulate better their unspoken, often unconscious, expectations of people. How often are objectives set, number and deadline targets met, but the leader is still disappointed or sees the results as flawed? That's because they didnt speak to "what will make me want to break out the champagne and celebrate!"

As for macroleading - yeah, that's a problem. I use the metaphor of a helicopter - leaders must be able to go high up into strategy AND dive deep into details when needed. Sometimes they hover and wait to see which is the best direction to move. Like a helicopter can do.
Thanks David.

Unknown said...

I just thought about the measurable part of the SMART goal setting, but I think it is not as simple as “put the man on the moon”. Let’s assume the goal is to build and deliver the software product to the customer. The measurable components can’t be just the delivery of the product but also the quality of the product, customer satisfaction, etc....

I think both macro leading and micro management is bad for an organization. I think leaders higher up in the organization must be focused on setting the strategy and vision without ignoring the details their middle management having to go through in accomplishing that and vice versa.

Jean said...

I believe both have their +s and -s, the worst is not realizing the issues exists. Once the issue has been recognized it's a far greater chance of improving and actually reaching desired goals.

Wendi Peck said...

I love the champagne test! Here's one we call the "bar bet test." It goes like this: imagine that you are having beers (champagne?) with a friend and arguing back and forth over whether something will or won't succeed. Finally, one of you puts money on the table and says "Twenty bucks says you're wrong!" Now: skeptic & believer BOTH have to agree on a definition of success. If you can agree on a definition of success well enough to place a wager, then your goal is clear enough -- and your measurement is ample. (Notice the importance of adult beverages in both tests!)

Anonymous said...

Champagne Test - love it! It's simple and seems like a fun way to set goals.

Micromanagement v. Macroleading - I've experienced organizations that have some of both, coming from the same people. It does happen, especially with inexperienced or immature leadership. While macroleading is bad, it can be corrected with complementary leaders who can be that bridge and put in the steps toward realization. The common case of the visionary CEO paired with the practical CFO is an example of that. Without that complement, though, I agree - macroleading is more dangerous.