Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Micromanagement (Part Three)

It’s not me…. It’s you! 
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If you’ve followed along with Part One and Part Two of this mini-series, then you understand the difference between effective, directive management and true, debilitating micromanagement. If you’ve been under the thumb of a micromanager, then you now have a solid 7-step action plan to neutralize those micromanaging ways by managing up.

But what if the problem is you? If you’re reading this article because it’s been torn out and slipped under your office door, resist the urge to crumple and toss it. You may not be a true micromanager (refer back to Part One), but some minor adjustments may ease the misplaced perception of this lone, desperate employee who is simply eager to have a better, more productive relationship with you. So while your employee works on his or her skills to manage up, perhaps you could refresh your skills to manage right.

Managing Right
There’s a fading sign on my office door that says “Encourage, Empower, Expect.” It’s one of my favorite management mantras because it’s simple yet on target. To be complete, however, it needs three more Es— Engage, Equip and Entrust. Although our emphasis is on replacing those micromanaging practices with more effective ones, these six Es are an easy way for any manager to remember the basics of effective management.

Similar to the concepts in Steps 4 and 5 noted in Part Two, the manager bears the responsibility of building a vision for the department and communicating the bigger picture that the tasks are supporting. The assignments you give represent the “what,” but it’s the “why” that will gain confidence and buy-in from your staff. If you have clearly communicated what’s important and what success looks like to you, you should be able to leave the “how” to them. Also, asking for their input at this initial stage has multiple benefits. They will not only take more interest and ownership of their work, but this will also help you identify if you’ve described the goal clearly enough for you to trust the direction that will go.

You can’t hold your employees accountable to accomplish something if you never gave them the tools to be successful. That may mean providing a formal training program, or it may mean taking the time to show them yourself. And yes, that may cross into showing them the “how,” but if you remember to be open to their suggestions for changing the process for the better, you will steer clear of the “M” word.

If it takes 10 positives to erase a negative, you may have a lot of ground to make up for if you’ve been micromanaging. Never be disingenuous, but make sure your employees hear your appreciation for the things they do well and champion the things they want to try. They need to know you will fully support them in accomplishing what you’ve asked of them (without doing it for them) and make sure you are praising where praise is due. Specifically, if they do something that increases your confidence in them and comfort level with letting go, celebrate that behavior to encourage a repeat performance.

This is my “E” word for delegate. Turning over an entire project to an employee, rather than just bits and pieces, will help them understand the bigger picture of how their work fits in and give them the context to catch the missing pieces that can suck you into micro-manager mode. Yes, there are parts of that project that need to be done by you — so let them assign them to you. And there are parts of the project that would be done better or faster by you — let it go. Offer your wisdom and experiences to inform their approach, but just like you spent years developing your winning process, their years need to start somewhere or they’ll never catch up with you. The patience you invest now will pay off tenfold in the future. Never take back a delegated task.

Develop a culture of smart risk taking and decision making. There are always going to be things that require the boss’s final approval, but in areas where that isn’t the case, encourage your staff to run with it. Sometimes that line is hard to see or define, so the next time they come to you with a decision that clearly could have been theirs to make, don’t answer. Ask them: If it were their decision, what would they do? Then tell them they don’t need you for those kinds of decisions and to just go for it. If their suggestion doesn’t make sense or align with your expectations, don’t reveal that with your contradicting suggestion. Instead ask how they arrived at that decision. The goal is to ask enough questions that they either arrive at a better solution, or that they reveal your next area of development so you can trust them to make this decision next time.

If you have clearly communicated your expectations, then you should expect results that meet those expectations. If you are engaging, equipping, encouraging, entrusting and empowering your staff, those results will often exceed your expectations.

Unfortunately, some recovering micromanagers swing the pendulum way too far in the opposite direction to make up for their hyper-oversight and let the team just run with everything, giving no real direction at all. When these managers’ expectations aren’t met, they feel paralyzed to coach or correct because clear expectations were never set.

At the end of the day, a manager is hired to manage — so manage. If you’re giving employees the tools to be successful, don’t be afraid to expect them to deliver. If they’re not meeting your expectations, ask yourself if you’ve really given them the tools. If they are meeting your expectations today, how are you preparing them to meet your future expectations down the road? If you’re giving them all the support and empowerment they need and they are still not meeting your expectations, don’t labor too long on what more you could be doing. Sometimes, it isn’t you. It’s them. Part of being a manager is making a difficult decision when it’s needed. That’s the one task you just can’t delegate.