Micromanagement Isn’t Always a Dirty Word

Jun 25, 2015
6 Min Read

Most managers dread being called micromanagers – “micromanagement” has become the dirty word of the workplace. But there are times when managing closely (see how much more flattering that sounds than “micromanaging?”) makes sense. In those situations, managers do themselves and their staff members a disservice if they shy away from being hands-on out of fear of being called a micromanager.

Here are five situations that require managers’ close supervision, and where you should plan to get much more hands-on than you normally would.

1. When a staff member is new to the work. When you have an employee who’s new to your organization or new to a particular type of work, it makes sense to work with her more closely than you would otherwise. You want to invest time in getting aligned about what success will look like and the plan to get there, and often in coaching the person and helping to build their skills. Of course, how much of this you need to do will vary depending on the person and the work. You would presumably spend more time setting up for success a junior assistant planning her first conference than you would an experienced event planner who’s new to your organization and mainly needs guidance on the particular preferences of your attendees. In both cases though, you should tell people, “I’m going to work closely with you for a while to get you acclimated and then will move further back and give you more room and autonomy once you’re settled into the role.”

2. When a project is very high-stakes. When a project is high-profile or absolutely crucial to the team’s success, you should check in earlier and more frequently, and put additional time into providing input and getting aligned with the staff members carrying out the work. With extremely important work, you don't want to be course-correcting late in the game or have people learning on the fly.

3. When you’re experimenting with a new direction you’ve never tried before. When you’re moving into unchartered territory, that may mean figuring things out as you go. You want to be a part of those conversations, so that you have the opportunity to weigh in, provide guidance, spot opportunities and potential challenges, and generally help steer your ship.

4. When you need very specific results. Most of the time, it’s great to give people leeway for creativity and innovation; that’s often how you end up getting better results than you thought you could. But there are some cases where you simply need something very specific, and you know that deviating from one particular path won’t get you there (for example, if you need a presentation prepared for a board member who has very rigid length and format requirements). When there’s not much wiggle room, it makes sense to be transparent about that and explain why you’ll be closely involved in the process.

5. When you’re not getting the results you’re looking for. When a person or program isn’t producing the results you want, it makes sense to get more closely involved so that you can understand what’s happening, provide more guidance, and assess what changes need to be made (which could be instituting different processes, rethinking a strategy, giving clearer feedback, or letting someone go).

And one more thing. Keep in mind that under any circumstances, it’s not micromanaging to clearly explain what a work product or outcome should look like, or to ask that work be done correctly, or to expect people to incorporate your feedback into their work in the future. That’s managing.

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