Micromanagement is the Achilles heel of any high-performing team. From an organisational perspective, it typically leads to a decrease in productivity, lower employee engagement, and less innovation.
Simply put: if you’re a junior team member working for a micromanager, your life sucks and your motivation to do anything cool for the company goes out the window.
Because micromanagement is often an unintentional side effect for new leaders who are promoted into management positions after being high-performing individuals based on technical ability, some of us need to learn how to lead. This includes identifying your management style and learning how to manage without micromanaging.
This post will help leaders who are guilty of micromanagement to not be a junior employee’s nightmare. I’ll share the methods that I personally use to manage my teams without being overbearing.
1. Upfront Coaching: Test for Understanding
No beating around the bush: this is the most important thing you can do to avoid the need to micromanage and put your mind, as a manager, at ease.
When delegating any task/project to a junior, the initial coaching session is critical. If you don’t do any upfront coaching, there’s your first problem.
Effective coaching is a whole post on its own, but remember the following: Upfront coaching is an opportunity for you to ask questions of the people you’re managing to test whether they understand the task at hand, especially the overall objective. It is not a lecture.
- Ask them if they know why we’re doing this task/project
- Ask them how they would go about achieving the objective
- Ask them why they would go about doing it in the way they’ve described
As someone who loves to talk and to teach, I know how easy it is to launch into a full sermon. A thought I always try to keep in the back of my mind to mitigate this: “how long have I been talking without hearing anything from the coachee?” Coaching is a conversation, not a monologue.
2. Deliver Objective, but Mind the Method
A boss who micromanages is like a coach who wants to get in the game. Leaders guide and support and then sit back to cheer from the sidelines.Simon Sinek
When coaching, it’s easy to fall into the trap of prescribing the method for how the task should be done. This is where micromanagement starts and innovation goes to die.
Oftentimes, there are multiple ways to achieve the same objective. This is why it’s critical to ensure that the person understands what the overall purpose of the task is. As I’ve said, it’s good practice to ask the person how they would go about doing the task and why they’d do it that way. This doesn’t mean you need to force your own method on them.
I’m constantly amazed by the ways my teams find to do things that are clearly faster and better than my own ways doing them. This can only happen if I allow them the opportunity to come up with their own methods!
If I think the coachee’s method might end up being particularly inefficient or won’t achieve the desired outcome, I can use that opportunity to enhance their understanding and guide them through a better approach. I find this is often not necessary, but I would never know if I didn’t start by testing for understanding.
3. AGREE a Timeline
In case you couldn’t tell, the key word here is ‘AGREE’.
I find that, where I know I’ve got a team member’s buy-in on the timeline, that it reduces my own anxiety around when the task will be finished. If I’m less anxious, I’m less likely to constantly check in. If I prescribe a deadline, however, I’m always a little worried that it’s not going to get done.
When my team and I set budgets by task, for example, I try to make a habit of prompting each team member before we lock the budget in: “How much time do you feel you need to accomplish this task?” The more closely my budget aligns with the person’s estimate, the more likely they are to take accountability for achieving that task within the desired time frame.
What’s more, the team member is likely to feel less pressure because we haven’t defaulted to the “OMG everything is important and needs to be done right now” bias. Suddenly, junior doesn’t hate me anymore. Boom!
4. Go away!
This is the part where you need to fight the urge to constantly prompt someone on their progress. It’s annoying. It’s not accomplishing anything. Don’t do it.
Where possible, I try to limit my check-ins as follows:
- Check in at 20% – after digesting all of the preliminary information, does the person have any clarification questions? Is the method consistent with what was proposed upfront? If not, are there any gaps in the method which we could correct now, before it’s too late?
- Check in at 80% – Are there any issues arising from the work so far that the team member needs help trouble-shooting? Are there any final clarification questions before closing out the task/project?
My check-ins are always accompanied by a “yell out if you need any help as you go” so the team member knows that the door’s open if they get stuck.
That’s it. Beyond my check-ins, I have to trust that my team is going to ask me for guidance if there’s a problem. Deep breaths.
5. Review and provide timely feedback
This is almost as important as the upfront coaching. It’s very important that you waste no time checking the work once it’s done, and that you provide honest, constructive feedback to the team member.
In professional services firms, you’re often working with high achievers who are hungry for feedback. They probably don’t want to hear from you a thousand times during the project, but they do want you to let them know if you’re happy with how they did it. If they could have done it better, real high performers want to know this too.
Make a habit of this and you’re likely to find juniors who want to work with you and who become significantly more competent over time. This means your trust in your team improves, and you are less likely to default to micromanaging!
Key takeaways to avoid micromanagement
Managing people is a tough gig. It’s always difficult to gauge how much your teams should here from you. By putting the following in place, however, you’re going to limit your tendency to micromanage, build trust in your teams and not be the leader everyone hates to work with.
- Coach for understanding upfront. Ask why and how they’d go about doing it that way.
- Deliver the objective, but be wary of prescribing the method! Let your teams innovate and be prepared to be impressed.
- AGREE the timeline. Buy-in from your team is important.
- Check in at 20% and 80%, but otherwise go away and trust your team.
- Review promptly and provide timely feedback.
If you have any personal tips that you use to avoid micromanaging, let me know in the comments!
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