Take the 'Micro' out of Management

Jathan Janove, J.D. By Jathan Janove, J.D. February 2, 2021
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Take the Micro out of Management

​Most HR professionals know a micromanager or two … or two dozen. Some micromanagers are incorrigible; they're simply wired that way. But others are not. One way to find out whether the manager in question can change is through HR coaching.

Micromanagers who might be responsive to coaching fall into these categories:

  1. "I had no idea; I just wanted to help." These managers have a blind spot. They don't realize that rather than help people succeed, their management style does the opposite.
  2. "That's how I was raised." These managers don't know there's a better way to manage and lead. Instead, they mimic the mismanagement to which they've been subjected.
  3. "I'd rather not have a difficult conversation. I leave nothing to chance." These conflict-avoidant managers duck the tough—but necessary—conversations with employees about performance expectations and accountability. Instead, they control their employees' work. Their actions increase employee disengagement, reinforcing the managers' lack of trust and confidence in the employees and their belief that their own way is the only way.

Micromanagers aren't helping anyone, and they could be leading to employee dissatisfaction and turnover. Here are three ways to convert a micromanager into an empowering manager.

Try the Star Profile

Previously, I discussed the concept of the star profile and shared an example of when I was a managing partner at a law firm. My predecessor was a classic micromanager. His office administrator adapted accordingly.

When I explained to the office administrator that micromanaging wasn't my style, she seemed shocked and perhaps even a bit threatened. She had adjusted to one style, and now she had to change. I defined in writing the specific behaviors, actions and results that mattered most to me. How she achieved those results, though, was up to her.

The star profile captures mission, vision, core values and overarching goals while leaving the details—the steps that need to be taken—to be discussed in an ongoing, empowering and collaborative dialogue.

Coachable micromanagers will find the star profile exercise to be hugely beneficial. Not only will it unleash employee potential and increase engagement, but it also gives the micromanager a clear way to define expectations.

Use a Delegation Template

I've also previously shared the concept of effective delegation. Once the expectations and tasks are defined, use this template to coach managers on how to delegate them effectively.

  1. Identify delegation candidates. Ask the manager to list the things he or she does on a daily, weekly and other interval basis. Those responsibilities can be decision-making, tasks, projects and interactions with others.
  2. Review this list with the manager, putting the responsibilities into three categories: nondelegable, delegable with ongoing oversight, and "employee takes the ball and runs with it."
  3. Coach the manager on communicating the process. When the manager describes the action to be performed and expected results, he or she should not describe how the employee should perform the action. The "how" is the employee's responsibility. The manager should ask the employee if he or she has questions. If the employee wants guidance on how to do the task, then the manager can give a brief overview. But let the employee figure out as much of it as he or she can. The manager should stick to describing the goal or purpose the assignment will serve. The manager can then help the employee figure out how to accomplish the assignment by asking the following questions:
    • "What steps do you think need to be taken?"
    • "What timetable do you propose?"
    • "What additional tools or resources might you need?"
    • "What do you suggest for project check-ins?"
    • "What support do you need from me?"
  1. Ensure you and the manager are on the same page.
    • Recap the key points of the tasks to be assigned.
    • Write up a Same Day Summary, or ask the manager to do so.

Tell Employees to Opt for 'Per-giveness'

Have you ever been caught in the permission-forgiveness dilemma? "Permission" is when you don't act unless the boss gives you the thumbs-up. That's a surefire way to invite micromanagement and unnecessary delays while playing the waiting game. "Forgiveness" is when you go ahead and act while hoping and praying that when the boss finds out, you won't get in trouble.

"Per-giveness" splits the difference. Here's how it works:

  • Send a message to your boss before taking action.
  • Tell the boss what you plan to do, when and why.
  • Don't ask the boss to weigh in. Instead say, "Let me know if you have any questions."

Your boss now has options. He or she can reply, "Great—proceed" or "Hold off; we need to discuss this first." Or the boss can do nothing, in which case you can go forward with the task.

Adjustments should be made as needed. With my office administrator, some things fell in the permission bucket and she knew not to act on them without my approval, such as "Jathan, I'd like to spend $50,000 to remodel the lobby."

Some things went into the forgiveness bucket: "I'm not bothering Jathan with the fact that I approved two hours of legal assistant overtime today." The rest fell into the "per-giveness" bucket.

"Per-giveness" is a great alignment and trust-building tool. As the boss, I liked it because it gave me options while eliminating unpleasant surprises. My administrator liked it because it gave her freedom and authority to take action and keep things moving forward with the knowledge that she and I were on the same page.

If you employ these tools as an HR coach, you'll be pleasantly surprised by micromanagers who transition to a more hands-off management style. The key is to show them why it's in their best interest—and their employees' best interest—to make the change. The benefits include the retention of talent; maximizing talent return on investment; fewer mistakes made; less frustration; and increased engagement, responsibility and self-accountability. Micromanagers often complain that they're under stress, overworked and don't have time to do what they need to do. As an HR coach, you have the solution to their problem.

Excising "micro" from "management:" yet another way HR can add value.

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