Since the age of 20, I’ve been managing a team of people. In both my success and failures, I want to share more of what I’m learning.
I’m starting from zero experience, and I’m on a journey to be a more instructive leader and manager of people.
As I endure this journey, I want to help others learn things too. Managing people is hard. Even more so if you’re much younger and inexperienced than the team you’re leading.
So here we are, stepping into my first attempt to do so. Today I want to talk about something important, for managers young and old: avoiding micromanagement.
Micromanagement: A Stranglehold on Your Team’s Potential
Micromanagement. What is it? What does it look like? How do you know when you’re doing it?
Google says, to micromanage means to “control every part, however small, of an enterprise or activity.”
As a manager, this means you are heavily invested in how your team is moving towards their goals.
Side note: I also think it’s hilarious how aggressive the trend is in the mentioning of this term. People love to throw it around.
I remember the first time I received direct feedback on being a micromanager. It stung. It’s tough feedback to swallow.
I put so much energy and emotion into my teams’, my company, and my own development. Receiving that feedback was what I’d imagine raising a kid would be like.
You do all that you can to give them the world, set them up success, and then when they turn 16 they tell you that you suck and they hate you.
Although I’d suggest not trusting my metaphor—I’m 22, single, and definitely don’t have kids. Take from that what you will.
But what I’ve come to realize is this: high performing people hate micromanagement.
Low performing people will most likely throw this term around as some sort of safety lever (and keep that in mind).
But all in all, it’s something that’s better to avoid.
Micromanaged people feel afraid to fail, create, and innovate.
In this dynamic, the manager—not the report—is the limit on development.
Being the bottleneck on the level of development, innovation, and creation your team produces greatly hinders performance. Don’t do that.
Really. And I’ll let you know why.
What Micromanaging Does to Your Team and Reports:
In my position, I manage three teams of people. Three out of three of my direct reports (the team leads) are older than me. Two out three of my direct reports have more years of professional experience than I have in years of my life.
Coming to this obvious realization, I thought to myself: “What the fuck?”
That is, what business do I have telling these people how to do their job?
Can you imagine how insulted they must feel to have a 22-year-old telling them exactly how to do their job? That’s like a high-school senior telling Charles Bukowski how to drink.
When I first received this feedback on being guilty of micromanaging, I almost threw up in my mouth. I felt shame for the lack of respect my actions displayed.
Luckily, I work with amazing people.
Their patience for my development as a leader and manager has been a godsend.
I imagine that our situation could have become much worse otherwise.
The Mal-Effects of Micromanagement:
If you micromanage you may see (or not see) some of the following occur in your business:
- Missed opportunity for innovations
As mentioned above, a leader that micromanages curtails a team’s comfort level with experimentation.
If you are the ceiling on your team’s development and innovation, you are dramatically affecting the health of your business.
- Allows low performers to linger
Micromanaging keeps low performers hidden. A micromanager does not let people shine, or for that matter, flounder (too explicitly). Hand-holding keeps true levels of performance your people are actually able to produce unknown.
If you are always there to “save them,” how can you know if they’re capable of saving and / or thriving themselves?
- Lose trust with your team, and frustrate them
Whether intended or not, the action of telling someone how to do a task or project makes them feel untrusted.
It’s like a backseat driver telling you every direction on how to get to your own house. After enough time you feel like telling that person to back off, as you’ve done the drive a million times.
You feel this person doesn’t trust you, so you don’t trust them.
People who don’t feel empowered will come to you for approval on decisions big and small. If you don’t empower your people to make play-by-play calls (#sportsmetaphor) you’ll keep giving your time where you shouldn’t spend it.
Try leaving for a vacation with a team you’ve micromanaged. You want a team who won’t skip a beat while you are out.
A team with these issues running wild isn’t a team at all.
Let’s revisit what it is we do want to have with our teams.
What you should have with your teams (at least what I want to have):
I want my teams to operate autonomously. As long as we’re headed in the same direction, then I leave the nitty gritty of project and task details up to them. Why spend extra time planning their projects and approving their decisions when I should be working on my own?
In a wonderful read on management, First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, it’s suggested to:
“Keep the focus on outcomes: The role of the company is to identify the desired end. The role of the individual is to find the best means possible to achieve that end. Therefore strong companies become experts in the destination and give the individual the thrill of the journey.”
- Mutual Trust
I want my people to trust that I believe in their competence and capability to make a large impact on our business and our strategic direction. I want to trust their ability to deliver. I want them to trust that I believe in them.
- Time to Build Relationships
Spending less time approving small decisions, and conducting “progress checks” on tasks and projects frees up time to let us get to know each other better. We talk about the Seahawks, yoga, salsa dancing, travel, life experience, etc. and it’s awesome. I get to learn how great the people are that I work with. And I get to share more of myself with them. Win win win.
- Long-Term vs. Short-Term Thinking
Once a trust is established that we’re on track on our latest active initiatives, we get to open conversations like “what’s next?” More than ever, my team and I are talking about not just this week, but also the next month / quarter / year. I want to encourage big thinking.
- NO LIMIT ON YOUR TEAM’S DEVELOPMENT
Again! I’m going to repeat this point over and over. I want my people to feel that the sky’s the limit (to engage in cliche) with their development. I want my people to constantly wow me and surprise me with the larger and larger impact that they are making through their continued freedom to experiment, innovate, and create.
Now that your mouth is watering with an image of what a team could be, let me micromanage you and tell you how to get there.
How do we get that? (Hint: It has to do with the end result):
- Refocus yourself on the current end result you are looking for.
For me, this was our department’s quarterly initiatives. What is it you’re trying to accomplish?
- Ensure that you are clear on what end result you are trying to achieve.
Do some journaling on this if you aren’t exactly sure. Make sure your metrics are clear, trackable, and the end result desired is objectively clear. And remember, don’t focus on what the “how” looks like. How much do you really care how a job was done if it ends up achieving the end result that you wanted?
- Change the conversation you have with your reports from the immediate to the end result.
Next time you speak with your direct reports, check for alignment with where you’re headed. Open things up by letting them speak and answer the question, “Where do you feel we are trying to get in a month / 90 days / 6 months / etc.?”
It’s important that you let them share before you do.
- Then, realign where necessary!
After your report has shared their understanding of the vision for the team / department / company, notice where you are and are not in alignment. This is where you share or provide feedback.
- Once you’re in agreement and alignment, check less on progress and focus on trusting your team.
Don’t use every meeting to check on the progress and a status update on the current project or active task. Just ask “Are we on track to get where we both want to be in [time frame]?” If they say yes,trust them. If they say no, then ask why that is and see where you can help.
- Only interject when they need help, and ask “What support do you need to make sure we are well on track to hit the desired end result?”
Help with roadblocks, resources, and feedback, but only when your team member suggests that you are falling off track on a current initiative.
- Still get the details, but be OK with having them delivered less often.
Stay up to date on how things are being done, but don’t concern yourself with this weekly…move this to bi-weekly, monthly, or quarterly. If you trusted one of your reports to move their department or team in the right direction, and only check in on that quarterly, wouldn’t that be awesome? What would that free you up to focus on?
- Spend your energy elsewhere…like you should be.
Once you’ve freed your time up after resigning from your previous bad micromanaging habits, move on to focus on other things. How can you better contribute to your own company rather than spending your time managing other’s tasks / projects when they can completely manage them themselves? Free yourself up to continue to think about where your department / company / etc. is headed. No one should know the future of your company better than you.
But wait, Cory, you’re crazy, my people won’t possibly deliver if I don’t check in with them all the time!
If this is what you’re saying, and I imagine for some it is,then here’s how I’d ask that you walk through this objection with yourself.
I’d start with asking yourself first: what more could I do here? What have I failed to realize? What am I doing or not doing that I should or shouldn’t be?
As a manager it’s important to work the muscle of full ownership, as blaming your report first will get you nowhere.
Let me prescribe a decision tree:
If this is an objection that comes to mind for you, you need to ask yourself:
- How clear are you on the desired end result of the project / task / initiative (Do you have metrics? Is project completion objective?)
- How clearly did you communicate that? If at all? (In the past I’ve definitely missed the step of communicating the desired end result completely.)
- If you got through those first 2 questions saying that you were super clear on both accounts, ask yourself: am I certain?
- If yes:
- Did you provide them with all the resources, support, etc. they needed? (Did you ask them, “What support do you need?”)
- Is this the first time they’ve explicitly and clearly failed? (And if so, do both of you know that this is the case?)
- Then, you must ask yourself: do you have the right person for the results you want to achieve? (Does this person align with the culture you want to have with your company and team?)
- If you now realize you don’t have the right person, I’d suggest finding a replacement. Or accepting that you don’t, and then subsequently limit your team and your business’ progress.
- If no:
- If yes:
- Work on the end result.(Perhaps you weren’t clear enough on what you wanted—revisit this, journal, think, etc.)
- Look at your communication. How did you communicate the vision / end result?
- Don’t spit out the vision, and see if they say “Yup, me too.” Let them speak first! Ask them: “Where do you think we are supposed to be at the end of this month / quarter / year?”
- Then see where you don’t align. It’s much clearer if you let them give you their best rendition of the vision that you are supposedly communicating.
- After re-aligning the vision / end result / etc., try again and see what results you have.
A great part of this transition from micromanagement to the world of company-wide innovation, creation, and autonomy is not an easy one— it requires honesty. Honesty with yourself and your reports.
You must determine the real root of the issue of why you aren’t here yet. Is the problem you? Or is the problem actually the capability of your people?
Not everybody takes advantage of the freedom for working in an organization where they can create, innovate, and make an impact. In fact, I believe most people don’t. It’s your job to clarify which people you currently have, and then which people you need in your organization.
Letting Your Best Horses Run Free. Peace of Mind and Value Bombz for Your Team’s Performance
While I’m most likely not in the clear of mircomanaging, I feel I’ve greatly improved.
Every time I reflect on my “pre-understanding” of micromanaging my people and it’s potential pitfalls, I cringe. How much more wisely could I have been spending my time? How much value could my team have been free to provide?
But enough about the past— let’s talk about what comes next for us.
With time freed up from “managing the small things,” where does our time get spent? Just warning you, this is where the magic lives.
Your time should be spent on the vision. Think how you can contribute more, how you can impact the business like no one else can, and how you develop the leaders of tomorrow for your organization.
Essentially, you should be looking for:
- What’s next for your company / organization’s industry? “How do you move with the rising tide?” as my current boss and mentor likes to say.
- How do you keep your best people engaged and excited to work with you? Your people are everything. How can you invest more in them and their development?
So the short of this post: don’t be a micromanager.
If you are hiring high performers, than I’d suggest reminding yourself that you have no business telling a high performer exactly how they should do their job (especially if you are an inexperienced manager).
One of the reasons that you hire high performers is so that you don’t have to worry about telling them the “How.” You give them an end result. They get you there.
Final note: If you’re in a place where you can’t imagine feeling like your team could create, innovate, provide value, and be better than you at performing specific operations of your business, then you either need to re-read this post or look at who you are hiring (but that’s a topic for a future post).