No matter how much you have, there is always one thing everyone wants more of: time. In the workplace we try to manage our time by being organized and efficient. But, most of us don't realize that we are wasting much of our time micromanaging employees.
If we can accept the fact that most of us are micromanagers, then there is hope. We can escape the trap by focusing on what is actually important.
- Provide clear objectives for tasks and establish a deadline.
- Ensure all success factors are identified.
- Explain the reason why the task is important and then get out of the way and let them get it done their way.
For example, a requirement to install network connections in a new office can be handled by stating, "I need you to install two network connections for a telephone and computer in office 112B by Friday afternoon." Properly trained employees will know how to accomplish this task without you hovering over them every step of the way. As they encounter challenges they will either develop a solution on their own or come to you for advice. This technique will motivate employees to complete the task on time (since they know the purpose of the objective and deadline) and feel empowered to determine the best methods to complete the objective.
Empowering employees does not mean that managers can’t track the status of the project. After all, senior managers and stakeholders are going to hold the manager responsible for meeting the objectives, not the employees. Managers can obtain feedback by requesting periodic (daily, weekly, etc.) updates and by checking in with their employees. Simply ask the employees how things are progressing—have they run into any challenges? Do they foresee anything preventing them from meeting the objectives? Let the employees tell you what is going on. Listen to what they are saying, don’t direct.
Issues and obstacles are a normal part of doing business and should not surprise managers when they are encountered. These challenges provide excellent learning opportunities for employees. For example, IT professionals spend a majority of their time training on troubleshooting compared to the time spent monitoring a network that is running smoothly. It is dealing with adversity that provides the learning experience necessary to grow as an individual and employee. When an employee comes to you with a problem do not place blame, instead ask why. "Why do you think the equipment was damaged?" is more effective than "I told you not to damage the equipment!" Hurting the morale and confidence of the employee will only waste valuable time that is necessary in order to correct the issue and complete the project.
Once an issue or obstacle is encountered, ask the employee how he feels it should be handled. Doing so will provide the manager an opportunity to serve as a coach and mentor. If the employee doesn’t have any ideas the manager can propose one or two options and ask the employee for his thoughts. For example, "What if we replaced the damaged equipment with an older item from the warehouse until we can procure a replacement? Do you think that would work?" This method will allow the employee to feel that is a part of the decision-making process while keeping project moving towards the objective.
Though you are giving the employees the latitude to make their own decisions it is important to hold them accountable. If the objectives are not satisfied then the manager needs to engage the employees to determine what went wrong. If the reason was because the employees took short cuts, took excessive breaks, etc. then it may be necessary to take the appropriate action based on the organization’s disciplinary policies. If the failure was due to inadequate skillets, perhaps additional training may be required. If issues were encountered that were never communicated to the manager then the manager needs to ensure they understand the importance of proper communication. Even though employees are given the latitude to make their own decisions they are still responsible for communicating to their manager. If they don’t, they are inviting micromanagement.
As discussed, empowered employees are given the latitude to develop their own path to meet objectives. However, there are limits. These limits or constraints can be derived from contract parameters, laws, regulations, policies, and processes. Empowered employees must be trained on any applicable constraints and held accountable for any violations. Enforcing these limits is not considered micromanagement as any violation can have serious consequences to the organization (injury, loss of business, fines).
Holding employees accountable does not only mean dealing with negative results. Successes should be recognized and exceptional performance should be rewarded. At a minimum, offer congratulations or take the team to lunch. If an employee went above and beyond then perhaps a reward such as a bonus or gift may be warranted. Recognizing successes provides an example for other employees to follow and develops a positive corporate culture.
Micromanagers can become more effective leaders by remaining focused on results and holding their personnel accountable for those results. Employing the techniques of effective leadership and avoiding the traps of micromanagement, managers may be surprised by the creativity and capability of their staff and in turn free up some much valuable time.
—Dan Travieso is the president of DT Squared Consulting, Inc. where he specializes in enhancing organizational performance. He has over 20 years experience in project and program management supporting a wide range of customers from the federal government to privately owned enterprises worldwide.