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Micro-Managing? 5 Steps to Stopping

Many managers got to their positions by being very good at a particular function. Not surprisingly, they want to be deeply involved in their subordinates’ projects – after all, the manager has been doing it longer and more successfully. Almost always, he has a better idea and doesn’t hesitate to share it. Unfortunately, this is often counterproductive. Subordinates feel stripped of ownership, become demotivated, and perform poorly.

Fortunately, you can reprogram yourself to stop micro-managing. Here’s a straightforward 5 step process that will wean you from your bad habit and help liberate your team’s potential…without abdicating your responsibility to get great results.

  1. Start by learning: Do you fully understand how your behavior is affecting others? Doubtful. When I work with a micro-managing client, generally I start by interviewing subordinates. I promise them anonymity so they feel safe in verbalizing their frustrations. Then I summarize the feedback (stripping out identifying verbiage) for the client, discuss the findings, and encourage her to conduct her own interviews: “I’ve received feedback that I micro-manage. Would you be willing to tell me if you agree, and if so how it affects you? I really want to become more effective, and I need your help.”
  2. Prioritize: Face it. As managers, there are some things we just can’t let go of. Indulge yourself. Prioritize your subordinates’ projects by importance and identify the ones where you feel you must remain deeply involved. Also, recognize the difference between individuals – less capable subordinates may need more guidance. But remember that you are trying to change your behavior to get better results, so keep the list of high-involvement projects to a handful.
  3. Establish Rules: For your high priority projects, let it rip. Keep driving your folks crazy. You’re the boss. But for the other 90-odd percent of projects, set an explicit rule that limits your involvement to an initial contact in which you set project expectations and one round of critiques. Banish the 7 rounds of nitpicks. And then publicly communicate the new rule to your team. Let them help hold you accountable. I know it’s hard. You’re a control junkie. But your group won’t grow if you don’t let go. And anyway, these are lower priorities, right?
  4. Create Long Levers: Guess what. If you live by your priorities and rules, you’ll find you’ve freed up all kinds of time for yourself. Put it to good use. Start making really long levers. Levers are machines that efficiently magnify relatively little effort into disproportionately large results. You build a lever every time you create a system or process or set of guidelines. That’s because the onetime effort of making it will continue driving results far into the future. Well done!
  5. Review: Here’s the important part. Set up a review process. Periodically compare results with the objectives and standards you have established. If results disappoint, use the team to help figure out why. Were the objectives and standards not clear enough? Were people not motivated or prepared to perform independently? Know, going in, that it will take time for results to meet your expectations. Learn, improve, repeat – and never stop. Otherwise results will fall short and you will revert to your old bad ways.

Now breathe deeply. Give the new system time to work. Just remember that the alternative didn’t work so well.

Who was the worst micro-manager you ever worked for? What did you learn from the experience? What can you do to empower your team and get out of their way?

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