One of the hardest habits to break when you manage employees is the practice of micromanaging. It’s the supervisor’s job to keep everyone in line and make sure the business is operating smoothly, but excessive interference with team members’ every move may prove detrimental to the organization’s success.
So, how does a supervisor who errs on the side of micromanaging let go of being a “control freak”? How do you build an environment in which you feel comfortable taking a step back, giving your team some breathing room, and trusting your employees to make the right decisions?
Create a priority list.
According to the Harvard Business Review, the main reason supervisors micromanage is because their priorities are not clear-cut. While micromanagers involve themselves in everything that happens within their domain, the better managers are those who know how to—and are willing to—train other people and then delegate responsibilities.
Excellent managers make a determination of which tasks are crucial for them to be involved in and which tasks they can hand off to others. A supervisor who spreads himself too thin won’t be valuable to the team and might even impede the company’s progress. When one person tries to handle too many disparate tasks on his own, something important is bound to slip through the cracks.
Remember that real leadership is not about doing everything yourself; it is about seeing the strengths of your team members and utilizing them to meet the goals of the group.
Take advantage of management software.
A manager who wants to keep tabs on the progress of projects can use software to monitor the status of different initiatives. There are a number of different applications available that enable supervisors to maintain visibility into the workflow—and a feeling of control—without making employees feel like they are hovering. Managers can access a clear picture of progress, see what issues there might be, and oversee workers’ activities without asking for frequent updates.
Another plus of such a system is that the supervisor can use it to hold employees accountable for their progress. Employees can monitor their own performance on the project, seeing a clear picture of progress at any given moment.
Many of these types of applications are available online. Some offer free trial versions. If you’re working on curbing micromanagement tendencies, you might try a trial version first. Then, if you deem it suitable for your company, you can eventually opt to purchase the full version.
Encourage open communication with your team.
One of the major reasons why managers begin to micromanage is that they don’t have open lines of communication with their employees.
In my experience as both an employer and an employee, successful management is all about building rapport and a relationship. Social interactions with employees outside necessary discussions, such as those around job requirements and performance, can nurture trust and camaraderie. This, in turn, encourages employees to feel that they can openly share their ideas, opinions, and feedback without fear of being reprimanded or fired.
Such open communication strengthens the company by fostering the free flow of ideas. It also reduces the likelihood that the supervisor will micromanage her team. The same trust that enables employees to speak their minds more openly also helps the manager feel more confident in delegating.
Trust enables you to delegate entire projects without raising your blood pressure because you know team members will do their utmost with the tasks they are assigned. At the same time, your employees feel seen, valued, and comfortable asking questions—which means that they will go the extra mile in ensuring the quality of their work, and that you will know about any issues or concerns they may have about their roles or tasks.
Give employees a common vision to work toward.
Most companies have a vision statement, and most projects have specified objectives or goals they are designed to achieve. For a particular project, the objective may be to submit a specific list of requirements to a client within a specific timeframe. This means that the entire team will focus their work toward making sure that all requirements are fulfilled before the deadline.
If you clearly lay out your expectations well in advance of any deadline, and remain open to questions and adjustments throughout the project, your team is far less likely to disappoint you. Hovering and constantly checking up on them may cause them to lose their focus, question their decisions, and think less clearly.
Simplify your instructions.
One of the major reasons managers become micromanagers is because they are not good at giving direction. They have a clear vision in their head, yet when they come to articulate that vision and break it down into parts, they don’t do so clearly. If trust and openness aren’t values in your corporate culture, workers may not feel comfortable asking questions. It’s a vicious cycle, because if employees try to understand a project’s guidelines without asking for clarification, they will make mistakes, which will cause the manager to distrust them and make him hesitant to delegate in the future. This is counterproductive but occurs all too often.
According to Inc., managers need to be able to simplify the instructions they give their employees. When delegating tasks, they need to provide their team members with only the essential information. When employees are clear about what they need to get done, and the manager has entrusted the “how” to the employees, they will be able to take on tasks much more easily.
Consider why you tend to micromanage.
As with any unhealthy behavior, micromanaging often comes down to the manager’s own issues. The need for control might stem from insecurities, from a fear of being held accountable if employees do not perform, or from a fear of relinquishing control. It might also come down to a feeling that only you know how a certain task should be done—and, therefore, that performing the task alone will be quicker and more efficient than delegating or even sharing responsibility.
Whatever the reason you feel more comfortable micromanaging, remember that even if micromanaging seems to be helping your projects succeed in the short term, those initiatives would be even more successful if they were handled by a competent and focused team. You’re handicapping your projects if you’re not putting your employees’ talents and strengths to work.
Moreover, micromanaging places a tremendous amount of pressure on the manager, unnecessarily. We are all human, and juggling an entire project solo is bound to result in something slipping through the cracks. Micromanaging also teaches employees unhealthy work habits, and it can create a hostile workplace environment. It robs employees of their independence and gives them the impression that you don’t trust them to do their job well.
If you feel that you might be micromanaging, awareness is always the first step in finding a solution.
Once you’re aware of the problem, my advice is to immediately start taking small steps to break the cycle. You could start with something as simple as saying good morning to your employees when you enter the office, creating an office box for questions and comments, or taking an hour of company time to eat a meal with employees.
Breaking the habit of micromanaging will improve your project’s—and your company’s—chances of success over the long term.
Jim Hoffer has more than 35 years’ experience in enterprise finance. Since 2012, he has been directing the Hoffer Financial Consulting Firm, which specializes in financial strategy, cash management, accounting, strategic planning, and tactical support. Hoffer has an MBA from Warrington College of Business and has held CFO and finance manager positions in several global public and private organizations. You can find him on Twitter at @jimhoffer85.