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Micromanaging? Maybe That’s a Good Thing

by Tasia Allison

Is micromanaging as bad as it’s made out to be? We think not! So, we’re here to break the stigma on the fear of micromanaging. First, micromanaging can be horrible, it can also be wonderful, and it can be both at the same time. Let’s break it down. 

If your employee can successfully do their job with little direction and little leadership support, the right leadership approach is to allow them the autonomy to do their job within the structure of organizational norms. In this scenario, intense leadership involvement would look controlling, be demotivating, and contribute to the stigma of the hated “micromanagement.” 

Most employees don’t want to be micromanaged but there are scenarios where it’s the right leadership tool and it can be highly powerful. While micromanaging behaviors can look controlling, all it should really be is additional leadership support that’s actually needed. But this doesn’t mean doing the employee’s work, what it should mean is more coaching, feedback, check-ins, deadlines, clear expectations, show and tell, and accountability. Micromanagement is really the opposite of autonomous leadership. Under autonomy, employees are free to do their work with minimal instruction and support from their leadership. As long as employees are performing as expected, this type of leadership is the best approach. But some scenarios don’t fit in that bucket where more intentional leadership involvement is the best fit. 

Here are 5 times “micromanagement” is best for you and your employee. 

  1. They are new to the task. As subscribers of situational leadership, we love this theory. When an employee is new to a task or an assignment, they need higher levels of involvement from their leader to show and teach them the way. This can look like micromanagement and can even feel that way to your employees, but we need to reframe the negativity around this leadership tool. If your employee is new to a task, the right thing to do is provide additional guidance, more follow-up, and additional feedback. 
  2. They are not motivated to do the task. Building on situational leadership, if an employee isn’t motivated to do a task, they need more support from their leader. Let’s face it, there are tasks for all of us we just can’t seem to muster the energy and motivation to do. With great communication between leader and employee to recognize this, a leader can provide additional leadership support. These are leadership behaviors like encouragement, setting deadlines, more frequent check-ins, and potential consequences (aka accountability). Employees who can’t get motivated to do a part of their job need their leader to step in and provide the right leadership to help them move along. How do you know an employee needs more leadership? This one is easy to spot because the work isn’t being done. Just a reminder, the answer isn’t to just remove the task or lessen the workload. 
  3. They are not performing the task as needed. If your employee has been given the autonomy to do their job as needed but isn’t meeting expectations, more leadership involvement is required. Even if they resist the extra involvement, past performance now dictates a change in approach. This is where we see the most friction and complaints on the employee side and where micromanagement gets a bad reputation. Unfortunately, this is something leaders have to settle within themselves: employees who are underperforming do not enjoy accountability. Accept it, be courageous, and push through for the betterment of your employees, organization and team. This can look like performance improvement plans, clear deadlines and expectations, and encouragement. 
  4. The work is hazardous. Some tasks or roles also may never be fully autonomous. If the work is hazardous, leaders have a responsibility to protect their employees and be highly involved in their safety. Here, a leader should ensure processes and safety protocols are followed exactly and all the time. 
  5. External factors. At times, even top performers may need additional involvement from their leaders due to external factors. Employees who were once stars can have temporary shifts in performance due to traumatic personal events or big life changes. They may need a temporary shift in leadership support as well. Sometimes employees in these categories go from total autonomy to needing daily direction, check-ins, frequent feedback and deadlines. If time off work isn’t the solution, the right leadership response is to lean in and provide more support and direction until they are ready for more autonomy again. 

Interested in learning more? Check in with one of our leadership consultants today!

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