The Cure for Micromanagement

Dan-Bobinski

Last month, I talked about the causes of micromanagement. This month, I’m providing a briefing on the cure for that ailment.

To start, it’s vital that managers know their key job responsibilities. When managers are promoted, they must become accustomed to their new level in the organization. This new level not only requires focusing on new things, it also requires a different set of actions combined with a new level of thinking.

Let’s start with what managers must focus on to avoid micromanagement. Too often people receive promotions because they excelled at what they were doing on the front line. By learning the nuances of the raw product and the tools and systems available to them, they produced the best product or service they could. The managers above them said, “Good job,” a lot, and that led to a promotion.

However, as I’m fond of saying, “The only skill that made you successful as a front line worker that will also make you successful at the supervisor/manager level is the ability to learn.” In other words, if you were making widgets on the front line and received a promotion, your new responsibilities are no longer the widgets, but the people who remain on the front line still making widgets, plus the systems people are using to make widgets.

Allow me to repeat that the main focus is no longer the widgets. To minimize or eliminate micromanagement, managers must instead focus on their people and learn what makes them tick. What is each employee’s behavioral style?  How does each person perceive and process information? How does each one make decisions? What about each person’s motivations?

The other shift in focus has to do with the system people are using to make widgets. On the front line, people are working “in” the system of widget production. But at the managerial/supervisory level, we must step back and look at the system overall.  It’s not necessarily learning deeper details of the system, but more like seeing the system as if from a distance, and becoming a student of how the system works. Even better is becoming a student of all the other systems that interact with the system you manage.

The next part of the prescription in the cure for micromanagement is taking on new responsibilities. I’m not talking about budgeting, scheduling or conducting disciplinary actions, although these are all very important and must be learned. No, the responsibilities needed to reduce or eliminate micromanagement have to do with the new areas of focus we just discussed – the front line employees and the systems they use. The two responsibilities that go a long way to minimize or eliminate micromanagement are training and coordinating.

Training is a vital component. Whereas a manager may have been promoted because they were very good on the front line, supervisors and managers must avoid stepping in to fix something should anything go wrong with widget production. It’s easy for people who formerly worked on the front line to fall into the practice of fixing production problems. A manager might think of himself as a “super tech” or the widget guru, and therefore the perfect person to fix a problem. He might even think, “This is why they promoted me – because I know how to handle these situations.”

But think about how this plays out. When a manager or supervisor comes over to tell people exactly what to do, the front line workers may or may not be learning. And even if they are learning, if the manager is always showing up to oversee every detail of what’s being done, motivation and initiative start to atrophy.

Even worse is when the supervisor or manager is dictating every aspect of how anything should be done, even when no problems exist. In these environments, it doesn’t take long for employees to either stop thinking for themselves or to resent being made to feel stupid or inept.

It’s always much better when a manager sees himself or herself as the person responsible for getting his or her employees trained. Too many managers perceive training to be the responsibility of Human Resources or the Training Department, but in the big scheme of things, it’s the manager or supervisor who has the most direct contact with his or her team. With that, managers and supervisors need to step up and take responsibility for seeing that everyone gets the training they need, even if it’s a manager who has to do the training!

This can be a formidable mental obstacle for many, because so many managers do not see themselves as trainers. Compounding the problem, the ability to stand up and talk does not a trainer make. Therefore, I always recommend that managers and supervisors take a short course on how to train other people. Even a half-day session learning how to transfer knowledge, skills, and attitudes to other people will pay for itself many times over. Either way, whether the manager is doing the training or just ensuring that training occurs, this is a core responsibility to help managers stop their cycle of micromanagement!

Finally, the second responsibility in the cure is to coordinate with others to improve the systems used to make widgets. Managers do not (and should not) spend their days making widgets, so they cannot possibly be aware of needs that arise. But if they strive to keep their communication lines open and active, and if they develop a solid birds-eye view of all the processes surrounding widget making, managers can actively seek cooperation and coordination to improve the systems used to make it all happen.

With changing one’s focus to the employees doing the work and not the work itself, and by developing a clearer birds-eye view of the systems employees are using, managers can work to coordinate for more efficient systems, as well as ensure that their teams are getting trained. With these in place, the likelihood of micromanagement disappears.

Dan Bobinski  – This article is adapted from portions of Dan Bobinski’s best-selling book, “Creating Passion-Driven Teams: How to Stop Micromanaging and Motivate People to Top Performance.” He is a certified behavioral analyst, and president of Workplace-Excellence.com and Everything-Training.com. As a consultant, speaker, and trainer, he helps organizations of all shapes and sizes. Reach him at dan@workplace-excellence.com or 208-375-7606.