Guest post by Heather Redding, manager and solopreneur
Micromanaging has become a bit of a curse word in the business world.
Considering that dissatisfaction with managers is a top reason employees leave their job, it is important to avoid micromanaging your employees.
Even though it seems to be well-known that micromanaging is counterproductive, it remains a top employee complaint about their managers. Could you be micromanaging and not realize it?
Common traits that micromanagers display include:
- Refusal or resistance to delegating
- Correct tiny details instead of focusing on the big picture
- Directly involve themselves in other’s projects
- Overtake delegated work after finding a mistake
- Insist employees consult with them before making any decisions
The first step to eliminating micromanaging is admitting it is a problem. Once you’ve identified it, there are some steps you can take to combat the tendency of managers — yourself or others in your firm — from overstepping the boundaries.
1. Improve the Hiring Process
A leader is less likely to micromanage if he or she trusts the members of her team to perform correctly. One of the best ways to nip this in the bud is by hiring competent, confident employees from the start.
The New York Times interviewed 500 leaders to understand what they do to hire the best candidate for the position. Traditional interviews tend to fall flat in truly understanding a person because it is like a rehearsed social call.
Instead, here are some of the tips these leaders had for finding the perfect fit for your company culture.
Get Away from Your Desk or Conference Room
It is easy for the interviewee to prepare pre-packaged answers to common interview questions while sitting across from you in your office or conference room. Shake things up a bit by taking the candidate on a walk throughout the office or business. Watch for the following things while you tour the facilities:
- Does the person seem interested in what your company does? Are they asking intelligent questions? Or do they look bored?
- Do they treat everyone with the same respect? A huge red flag is a person who behaves respectfully around executives but is rude to the administrative support or other employees.
Sharing a meal is another fantastic way to gain insight into a candidate’s personality. A lunch or dinner lasts longer than an interview and provides more opportunity to go off-script. A few things to watch for during the meal:
- Can they carry on a conversation?
- Do they treat the service staff with respect?
- How do they handle any problems that may arise?
- Do they look you and the restaurant staff in the eye? This demonstrates a basic level of respect and communication skills.
Get an Outside Opinion
Even as competent managers, we can not always trust our initial instincts. Additionally, the chances are that other members of your team are going to have to work closely with this new hire.
Bring in other members of the team to the interview process. Allow them to interact with the candidate with and without your presence. Then get a report after the interview. Some great questions to ask the secondary interviewer:
- Did they feel like their personality will fit in well with the company culture?
- Did they notice any red flags for this candidate?
- What positives did you see in this candidate?
A second opinion can be gold in finding the right fit for your team. Be open-minded and prepared to have a differing opinion on one candidate from your colleague.
Give a Homework Assignment
Even if you jive with a potential new hire’s personality, it is better if you can have real proof they can perform. An easy way to weed out a charismatic candidate from a job they aren’t capable of performing is with a homework assignment.
Assign a small task as a test. This provides insight in a few ways. One, it shows you how dedicated the candidate is to this potential job. If they don’t complete the task, or they take forever to complete it, you can know they were not that interested in the position.
A short writing assignment, around 500 words or less, is a fantastic way to set candidates apart, beyond the in-person interview. A few questions you could ask include:
- How would you solve a problem in this new position? You could present a current issue in the company for extra insight.
- How would you describe yourself in 500 words or less?
- What are some things you would do in your first 100 days on the job?
2. Slowly Step Back and Build Trust
If you have identified micromanaging tendencies in your leadership style, it might take some time to break those habits. It might take even more time for your employees to trust that you are letting them operate autonomously.
The trick is to start small. Begin with one project and promise yourself — and your team — that you plan to let them take the reins. Encourage team members to keep you accountable by calling you out if you start to slip back into micromanagement and then fall back when you are exposed. Any argument in this area will push you further backward in building trust among the team.
After the project is complete, circle back with the team to evaluate results. Did they feel better when you let them take charge? Did any major catastrophes happen without your input in every detail? It might surprise you just how little you need to be involved in the minor details.
Alternatively, for some employees who have grown used to your involved leadership style, this step back could cause anxiety. They may have grown used to being directed in every step of a project. Foster a community of open communication that allows them to voice this concern. Allowing them to succeed without your direct oversight will build their trust in their abilities.
3.Build Autonomous Teams
A fantastic strategy to balance individual employee freedom with oversight is to build autonomous teams. By empowering members within the team to be their own oversight, you can step back from micromanaging. A study from Cornell found that teams that were allowed to operate autonomously experienced a 200% or higher growth rate, and only one-third of the turnover.
Building autonomous teams will not happen overnight. You will need to collaborate with your employees to identify how teams will best operate. It will be a learning process, but you can find success by following a few guidelines.
Meet with your team and speak candidly about your expectations. Listen when they explain the dynamics of the team. Building trust starts with you active listening.
From there, collaboratively build expectations of project objectives, delegation of tasks, and processes for measuring progress. The more the team can manage themselves, the more trust they will have in themselves to succeed.
One of the biggest waste of micromanagement is redundancy. A single employee may end up reporting the same details to multiple managers operating with a micromanagement style.
Meet with your team to identify any redundancies you could eliminate. For example, is one employee reporting to their manager, who is then reporting the same details to their manager? Does that provide any benefits to the progress of projects? Or is it just an imaginary safety net of micromanagers?
Empower your employees to be accountable to themselves and each other directly, instead of sending details up the line.
Let Employees Decide the “How”
As a manager, you should focus on the big picture and end goals. Micromanaging happens when you lose yourself in the details of “how” something will be done.
Instead of detailing individual steps along the way, offer employees the freedom to figure out the “how” of their goals. As long as everyone hits their quote, objectives, or project deadlines, the specific details of how it gets done does not matter in the broader scope of the business.
Using this approach will not only build confidence in employees’ ability to operate autonomously, but it also builds space for creativity and innovation. When strict guidelines and micromanaging leaders no longer restrict them, employees are free to exercise critical thinking and creativity. This is the space where magic can happen.
4. Improve Your Leadership Skills
A critical component to eliminate micromanaging is to sharpen your own leadership skills. The more confident you are in your skills as a manager, the less tempted you will be to check in on projects. Micromanaging can stem from a place of insecurity in how you have planned a project or delegated tasks.
Sharpen your leadership skills with a focus on time management and planning. If you have set reasonable goals and crafted a plan for projects, it is easier to delegate those tasks out to trusted employees than if you are operating only reactively.
Scheduling and Project Management Software
Time management and planning are not skills that come naturally to every professional, but they are the requirements of good managers. If you struggle with those skills, a scheduling software can be a tremendous tool. It can layout schedules and projects in a visually pleasing way and guide you through steps to finish tasks.
Many scheduling or project manager tools allow for multiple users to contribute to the same project. Utilize the tools to delegate tasks accordingly. Many tools offer features that allow for team members to mark the status of tasks or projects. This helps minimize micromanaging because you can log into the portal to see progress rather than individually checking with each employee on each assignment.
Practice self-reflection of your own behavior. Can you think of any examples of when you might have been micromanaging? Self-awareness is a huge first step to mitigating the problem.
If you recognize that micromanaging is a habit of yours, consider seeking professional development or training to help you break the tendency. Your employees will thank you for it, and you will be happier in the end.
Once you have retrained your own management styles, spread the knowledge to your management team. You want all leaders and team members to be on the same page.
5. Ask for Feedback
Your employees are your most significant resource in combating micromanaging. You, as the manager, may have a completely different view on your behavior than your team.
The Harvard Business Review recommends performing a cross-evaluation assessment. Hire a third-party to do a confidential survey from your employees. Anonymity is crucial to receiving honest feedback.
Brace yourself for hearing some harsh words, but keep in mind that it is for the greater good of the team. Resist the urge to make excuses or dismiss the employees’ feedback. Then take action steps to resolve issues or eliminate behaviors that are causing unrest among team members.
It is also a good idea to check in periodically with the team to see if your efforts are making a difference. Continual feedback can help you pivot your leadership style in real-time while still planning for the future.
The beauty of eliminating micromanaging from your business is the newfound freedom you and others on your leadership team will enjoy.
Micromanaging is exhausting and often counterproductive to progress in the long run. With a trustworthy team operating autonomously, leadership can spend more time on the big picture and long term planning.
Additionally, without having to provide updates on every detail to their managers, employees will have more time to dig into the details of their specific purpose.
Heather Redding is a part-time assistant manager, solopreneur and writer based in Aurora, Illinois. She is also an avid reader and a tech enthusiast. When Heather is not working or writing, she enjoys her Kindle library and a hot coffee. Reach out to her on Twitter.