Wednesday 15 January 2020 5:21 am

To micromanage or not to micromanage, that is the question

Elizabeth Kent is chief operating officer of Bishopsgate Financial.

If you’re a manager, knowing when to bite your tongue and say nothing can be tough, especially when you’re watching someone make a mistake that you know how to avoid. 

Jump in too often, and you become a micromanager. Let people fail excessively, and they become disheartened and inactive. How do you strike the right balance, when a mistake can cost money and lose jobs?

It is all too easy to fall into micromanaging, especially with an inexperienced team, but as we all know, a good leader trains and delegates. 

Of course, that’s very easy to say. The reality is that allowing people to flourish needs time and focus — both of which can be in short supply. 

So what’s the solution? For most managers, it’s about knowing when to be hands-on and micromanage, and when to step back.

As a manager, you want your people to be as efficient as possible. Less experienced staff or those who have changed careers need development and supervision to be effective. They also need guidance in understanding how the organisation operates. Explaining why a decision is being made, for example, and why you chose that route  is essential if you want them to learn and grow.

In these cases, you’ll want to keep close to the employee, steering their decisions, encouraging them to do more, and improving the quality of their work. Try not to get frustrated with staff — it’s easy to underestimate how long it can take people to acquire a skill and deliver in their job. 

More junior or newer employees obviously need this kind of increased supervision and support. But over time, once they have developed, you then need to step back and give them space — otherwise, you’re at risk of being perceived as micromanaging, 

This initially hands-on approach involves a significant investment from the manager, who then must back off as the employee grows in confidence and competence. They have now earned your trust, and hopefully that of the wider organisation. That means they’re on their own.

Of course, work that’s critical for the boss to do, such as strategic planning, needs to remain with you. 

It’s your job to focus the bulk of your energy where you truly add value — not on micromanaging.

It can be especially tempting to micromanage when things go wrong. If a team member makes a mistake or isn’t getting work done fast enough, it’s easy to step in and do it yourself. 

However, if you finish “their” project, you’re doing someone else’s job. That’s how to demotivate someone — fast. It also begs the question, if you’re doing their job, who’s doing your work? 

Sometimes, if a task is urgent or high stakes, it makes sense for the boss to step in, or at least ask for regular updates. But don’t assume that people understand why you’re doing this. It’s best to be explicit and coach the employee so that they understand what you’re doing and can learn to do it on their own.

Also, remember that getting the most from your people takes time. You have to allow for this. You’ve probably been promoted due to your technical skill, so it’s frustrating seeing someone struggle. But your job is different now. It’s about getting other people to do as good — or better — work than you.  

It’s worth remembering that high-performing teams are rare — really rare.  According to the Harvard Business Review, 75 per cent of them are dysfunctional. If you want to ensure that yours is one of the successful ones, you need to act as a coach, ask lots of questions, and encourage people to learn new skills. 

So even if you enjoy being a hands-on leader, getting stuck in when the going gets tough, learn to step back — so that your team can learn to step up. 

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.