7/29/2010 – Christine M. Riordan –
Micromanage. A dreaded word. The dictionary defines it as “to direct or control in a detailed, often meddlesome manner.” Most popular management books call it something to avoid at all costs and give decisive tips on how not to do it.
As a professor of management, I often talk about empowering employees and avoiding micromanaging them. Sometimes very bad things happen when you micromanage your employees with too much attention to detail.
However, in my consulting work with executives and in my own leadership role, I know there are times when micromanaging is essential. All executives dream of having employees to whom they can toss work or a project and know it will get done and done well. Those employees may ask for input and help as needed, but they should reliably get the work finished with expected quality, timeliness, expertise, innovation and outcome. The reality, though, is that there are a number of circumstances that can require your close supervision and attention to detail–where you have to micromanage. Here are six (6):
(1) A strategy is changing. When a company or unit changes strategy or major operations, leaders generally need to provide close direction until everyone involved understands and buys into the new direction. Closer management is also required when the new direction requires changes in management activity.
(2) The enterprise is taking on a new endeavor. Similarly, new products and services often require closer supervision, because a company may be moving into new, uncharted territory where everyone needs to be up to speed. An all hands-on-deck mentality for a new endeavor also may convey a team approach for getting something launched.
(3) There’s a new leader, employee or unit. It’s a common mistake to fail to recognize that even very talented and accomplished leaders can use advice and mentoring when they’re placed in a new role or company and have to adjust to it. This might mean reviewing projects in more detail, helping set priorities, providing interpretations of situations, making introductions around the company or unit and more. You should tell such a new leader: “I will work closely with you for a while, but my expectation is that my level of interaction and review will become less and less over time as you fully move into the new role.” The same holds true when new business units are being developed. Closer supervision may be needed until a unit is established and is high performing.
(4) An employee or leader fails to execute, or a project continues to linger. Too often things simply don’t get done. Leaders then often wait patiently for something to change or results to be produced. After all, we’ve delegated clear responsibilities. But you can’t afford to wait too long. If something seems to be lingering, you need to find out its status, why results aren’t being produced, and why delays are occurring. I’ve found sometimes an employee lacks the skill or knowledge for a project and thus is struggling. Other times there are organizational barriers that the employee needs help moving out of the way. Of course, in some unfortunate cases, the employee simply isn’t doing the job.
(5) A customer registers a serious complaint. It’s always important to investigate breakdowns in service and customer relationships. When serious problems come to your attention, you as a leader must have their details investigated, and you must stay informed. More often than not, your findings will result in much-needed permanent changes in processes or customer service techniques.
(6) Results are disappointing. There are many critical areas in a company where results are paramount. If they aren’t as expected, week after week, a leader must ask those responsible for more information about why. Perhaps even more important, you must ask what is being done to turn around the situation. If a turnaround doesn’t occur within a reasonable time, you should delve in still more deeply to see what changes can be made.
In any event, when you do have to get into the details of the work of others, honestly tell them why you’re doing so. Saying something like “we need to resolve these issues together” or “I am here to help during this transition” makes for a shared responsibility to manage to results.
At the same time, always be careful not to stay too long in the details of another’s work. If your close supervision is needed for a very long stretch, you may not have the right employee or leader in place for the assigned workload.
But you won’t find that out without a little unavoidable micromanaging.
Christine M. Riordan is the dean and a professor of management at the Daniels College of Business, University of Denver.