The more you try to control the less control you have

Most managers who micromanage their employees suppress their spirit and performance.

Employee’s performance is directly tied to their sense of ownership, commitment, and accountability for the success of their organization. Their passion, ownership, commitment and accountability are reduced when they feel distrusted, disrespected and under-valued from a leadership and/or professional standpoint by their manager.

By micromanaging their people, managers generate an environment of compliance and fear. And that typically cause people to play it safe and “cover their behinds” instead of stepping up and going beyond the call of duty to take ownership, risk and initiative.

Managers who micromanage their employees are focused on the wrong things. Instead of trying to control their people they should be providing leadership and confidence to their team by identifying their next strategic objectives, inspiring their employees to take them on, and ensuring that the organization has the wherewithal to execute them.

In fact, micromanagement puts in motion a dynamic of a self-fulfilling prophecy: The manager relates to his people as uncommitted, incompetent and/or unreliable. The people, in turn, play it safe and don’t take ownership, risk and accountability. This confirms the manager’s view and he continues to micromanage.

The issue lies with the manager. Most managers who micromanage and control their people do it because of their own insecurity and fear of failure, and not because their employees are, in fact, incompetent or uncommitted.

In order to strike the appropriate balance between being on top of things while not suppressing their people, managers must put the following building blocks in place and manage them effectively:

  • Build a team that they trust in terms of commitment and competency. And establish a dynamic of authentic, honest and courageous communication within their team.
  • Align their team members around their vision of the future – a clear vision and/or set of objectives that all team members clearly understand and are on the same page about; a future that everyone feels genuinely passionate about, committed to and accountable for, as their own.
  • Orient their team members around results and deliverables rather than tasks and activities in order to build an environment of real accountability (accountability can only exist when there are clear measurable results to manage).
  • Ensure that roles, accountabilities, expectations and processes are completely clear to all team members, in order to eliminate the chance of ambiguity, excuses or mischief in this regard.
  • Lastly, put in place a simple and effective mechanism and process for tracking all key commitments, deliverables and promised results on a monthly and quarterly basis in order to eliminate confusion or lack of accountability.

Managers should be structuring their management team – no matter how senior or junior – as the cabinet accountable for achieving the collective future, not just ‘each to their own’.

If someone is not performing up to an agreed-upon standard or expectation, managers must be willing to have a straight and honest conversation that either elevates the individual to a higher level of performance or makes it clear that someone else needs to be brought in to do the job.

If the manager has built a strong team dynamic of honest communication and authentic ownership toward his future there will be no need to micromanage because his team members will be operating in a very powerful and responsible way toward making results happen.

I once heard someone describe the role of a leader as:

Hiring the inspired or inspiring the hired.”

Well, I agree with that, and I would add: in the absence of real ownership and honesty, no amount of micromanagement will be effective anyway.

Founder and President of Quantum Performance Inc., a management consulting firm specializing in generating total alignment and engagement in organizations.

His work has encompassed a broad range of industries including banking, telecommunications, manufacturing, entertainment, real estate, retail, startups and non-profits.

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