Article published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on September 5, 2023.
I often hear from readers about micromanagement issues they face within their respective organizations. They complain about how some bosses micromanage and make decisions that should be the responsibility of direct reports. I also hear about some staff units that exercise unproductive and overly detailed oversight on the work done by line operating units and other staff units. This is an update of a column I wrote on this subject in May 2015.
Leaders, don’t micromanage your direct reports
Effective leaders don’t micromanage. They set goals and expectations, empower and hold direct reports accountable for results, and cut them loose to do their thing.
Ask your direct reports to write the first draft of their own goals so they have ownership in them. You will learn what they want to accomplish. You can then share what additional goals you want them to achieve. Periodically, progress toward the goals should be reviewed to determine if they are on track, and to decide what corrective actions need to be taken, if appropriate.
Levels of authority need to be established for direct reports, ensuring that their authority level is not so low that it amounts to micromanagement. This even applies at the CEO level.
I once became a director of a company where most capital expenditure projects went to the board for approval. This took the time and focus of the board away from larger capital projects and key strategic issues. The board raised the capital spending authority level of the CEO, creating time for the directors to focus on more important matters.
By micromanaging employees, you deprive them not only of the opportunity to learn, but also to feel accountable for decisions they make. Employees who do not feel accountable for their decisions will not grow in their jobs.
Why do some bosses micromanage? They themselves may be 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, impacting 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—put in place by overzealous staff groups—went beyond what is necessary to ensure uniform practices across the organization and compliance with legal or regulatory requirements?
Effective leaders should question if some of the firm’s policies have a discernable benefit. Are some policies unnecessarily restrictive, impeding the ability of line or staff unit leaders to do their jobs?
Don’t write policies or adopt 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.
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.” This is not true.
Don’t micromanage—empower employees and hold them accountable for results. Obsolete policies need to be sunsetted. Companies that adopt these principles as part of their culture are the ones that will excel.
Stan Silverman is founder of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.