Why do some leaders prefer to micromanage their team?
According to Mary Parker Follet, management is “the art of getting things done through people.” Getting things done is indeed the sum total of what a manager aspires to accomplish. However, the process of making sure that the actual outcome matches the manager’s expectations is quite a challenge.
This matching process is what keeps managers awake at night. Giving instructions is the easy part, making sure that it is acted upon (without the stress of nagging and reminders) is the cause of sleepless nights, and perhaps even a cause of stomach ulcers.
Yet, the act of micromanagement is usually the default management mode when it comes to getting things done through people. Before we become too quick to tear down the concept of micromanagement, there must be something inherently enticing about this approach, which caused it to be the prevailing method of interaction with employees.
Let’s explore the attractiveness of micromanagement and deliberate through the consequences of such a mind-set.
Things get done in a specific way
“When I meticulously monitor the performance of my employees, I get what I want, when I want.”
It is normal for a manager to be expecting a high performance from his or her employees. In fact, if there are no performance standards communicated, then there is really nothing to manage in the first place.
When there is micromanaging, the manager has the supposed benefit of being able to control exactly how their employees produce and deliver the goods. However, it means that the employee is less than buoyed with motivation to perform well.
The specifications of the task looks like this:
- The boss dictates not only the end result, but also the way it is achieved.
- The boss demands progress by applying pressure.
When it comes to safety protocol or critical work process steps, it is understandable that every step must be followed precisely.
However, when managers are managing for competitive advantage, the wise manager is the one who goes beyond the specifications and focuses instead on the spirit of the task.
The spirit of the task looks like this:
- The boss describes the end result and then allows for the application of individual talent.
- The boss discusses progress by providing support and resources.
According to Gallup, employees who are encouraged to focus on their strengths are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs, and more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life in general. If an organisation aims to tap into the leadership potential of every employee, then the onus is on the manager to practice the art of outcome-based management.
In outcome-based management, the manager plays the role of a coach who identifies the talent of the employee. When the race starts, the manager guides from the sidelines instead of being on the racetrack itself.
Here are three steps to becoming an outcome-based manager:
- Identify the individual talents of your employee (each one of them is unique).
- Integrate their talents into their role description.
- Intentionally allow your employee to meet the described goals through their own strengths.
Tried and tested methods work
“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”
While it’s often quoted that the only constant is change, one of the manager’s job is to provide stability and predictability. If the manager constantly changes how things are done, employees are then left without a stable structure to enable high performance.
One of the flavours of micromanagement could be the good intention of the manager to provide stability to the employee (i.e. “Let’s continue to do it this way because this is the proven path”).
However, the proven path may not always inspire motivation or passion.
It all depends whether if the manager is managing for continuity or managing for creativity. If continuity is the order of the day, then some degree of micromanaging may be necessary because employees need to toe the line so that we all can put our best foot forward.
Whether you need continuity or creativity depends on your answer to the following question:
“If your employees continue to think and act as the way they do today, will you be able to meet your desired results in the next three years?”
If your answer is a clear “No”, then the micromanagement style of the proven path is not the way to go. We can see that what has been proven to work in the past is not good enough to propel us into the future. In other words, what got us to this point will not necessarily carry us forward.
Here are three steps you can take to manage with passion and creativity:
- Identify the compelling case behind the change. Employees need to understand the ‘why’ of the change before you tell them exactly what will change.
- Implement a clear reward system for those who comply.
- Implement a clear reprimand system for those who fail. It is relatively easier to recognise our employees who do well but, if no action is taken against non-performers, you are actually sending out the wrong signal (i.e. there is no need to do your own job well – others will pick up the slack). Hence, when you have non-performers, remember this – the passion and creativity of your high performers will be affected if you do not take action.
Conclusion – it is about being a great manager
The great manager engages with his or her employees so that things get done in the right spirit with passion and creativity.
According to Gallup, the single greatest factor that determines employee engagement is the quality of the relationship between the employee and his or her direct supervisor. The employee, who performs well, is the employee who is first treated as an individual.
Nobody likes to be treated as just a dot on the organisation’s chart.
Although micromanaging is an attractive default option, it is not a sustainable option. However, when there is great management, there is the release of the freedom of individual talent and creative passion. Yes we get things done, but we get it done in an engaging manner.
Joseph Tan is CEO of Leaderonomics Good Monday. His passion is to work with performance-focused leaders to capture the hearts and minds of their employees through a strengths-based and accountability-driven approach. Much of what is shared in the article above comes from his work as a Gallup-certified strengths coach. If you would like to enhance the engagement level of your organisation, email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details. For more Be A Leader articles, click here.