Don’t micromanage employees – empower and hold them accountable for results

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on May 27, 2015

By micromanaging employees, you deprive them not only of the opportunity to learn, but to also feel accountable for decisions they make. Employees who do not feel accountable for their decisions will not grow in their jobs. Those with ambition will leave the company and go where they can be held accountable.

Occasionally, employees may need to make a decision within their authority level, but the decision involves high risk or could have a strategic impact. In these cases, employees should consult with their boss, or any other individual who has experience or expertise in the area. Through this process, the reward/risk profile of the decision can be better understood, and ways can be found to de-risk the decision. This is one of the reasons among many that you should always hire people with good critical judgment. Even though a decision may be within the authority level of an individual, they need to sense when to get input from others before making the decision.

Why do some bosses micromanage? They themselves are micromanaged by their boss, who expects them to have all the answers, regardless of how insignificant the issue. This is a sign of poor and ineffective leadership, and a poor organizational culture. The best people leave for positions where they won’t be micromanaged. The mediocre people stay, lowering the performance of that organization.

Staff units, don’t adopt policies that micromanage line or other staff units

Have you ever worked in an organization where policies that were put in place by over-zealous staff groups went beyond what is necessary to ensure uniform practices across the organization and compliance with legal or regulatory requirements? This micromanagement issue is voiced by many readers.

Certainly, organizations must ensure that its core values and operating principles are adhered to. These are derived from the tone at the top and institutional culture, which are set by the CEO and supported by leaders down through the organization. Policies are developed from core values and operating principles.

Effective leaders should ask if some of their firm’s policies are unnecessary, because they have no discernible benefit. Do some policies or practices micromanage decisions that should be within a line or staff unit leader’s discretion? Are some policies unnecessarily restrictive, and impede the ability of line or staff unit leaders to do their jobs?

Policies attract internal auditing resources to ensure compliance. Auditing policies which are unnecessary divert resources away from important compliance or other areas. They also may impede the freedom of leaders of line and staff units from taking action or making decisions. Don’t write policies and procedures unless they are necessary to adhere to a core value or compliance requirement, or ensure consistent practice across the company, such as with human resource policies.

Most readers are familiar with the concept of external and internal customers. The concept states that line units are the internal customers of staff units. I view this relationship between line and staff groups as more mutually supportive. Staff and line units must collaborate and partner with each other to create mutual success.

Should policies and practices that make little sense or impede the success of a staff or line unit be challenged? Absolutely! It is surprising how often this does not occur. Many employees feel “that’s just the way it is.” Not true. Policies and practices that don’t make sense can and need to be changed.

Hire employees with good critical judgment. Don’t micromanage – empower them, and hold them accountable for results. Staff and line units within a company need to collaborate with each other. Policies that don’t make sense need to be challenged and changed. Companies that adopt these principles as part of their culture are the ones that will excel.

Stan Silverman is a writer, speaker and advisor on effective leadership. He is the Leadership Catalyst at Tier 1 Group, a firm of strategists and advisors for preeminent growth. Silverman is vice chairman of the board of Drexel University, a director of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania and former president and CEO of PQ Corporation. Follow: @StanSilverman. Connect: Website:

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