Managing Employees

The Value of Butting Out: How to Stop Micromanaging

Reader Resource

Position yourself for growth in 2017—join us live at the Entrepreneur 360 Conference in Long Beach, Calif. on Nov. 16. Secure Your Seat »

With the explosion of social, mobile and cloud platforms, the way we work has radically changed. Information is no longer buttoned up in emails and reports that go up and down the chain of command. It now flows throughout a company digitally and organically, freeing up managers to spend time on more impactful work.

With better access to information, the hovering micromanager who needs to direct every employee action and check in on every decision has no role. Middle managers won’t disappear altogether but their role is evolving into one that involves strategic coaching and support, making the overall organization more agile and effective.

The end of the corporate communication ladder

For decades, company structures were influenced by a very linear flow of information: up from employees to managers and back down again. Entire communication systems were based on reports, emails, and siloed meetings. 

Related: As a Manager, Here Is How to Keep Employees Engaged

The most obvious problem with this structure is the slow pace of information flow, particularly in today’s always-on, need-it-now world. In many cases, top-level managers would have to wait until the weekly report on Friday to know what teams were doing and determine if any changes needed to be made.

An even more insidious offshoot of this communication structure is micromanagement. When information is locked in reports, managers have no other way of getting the information they need but to look over employees’ shoulders and ask pesky questions like “How’s the project going?” “Did you get back to that customer?” “Is everything on track?” Even with the most genuine intent, it's hard not to come across as a nag and make employees feel anxious about their work.

To be happy, people need to feel in control of their own destiny: competent, independent and connected. Micromanagement robs employees of the personal satisfaction that comes from individual effort and self-direction.

The transition from micro to macromanager

Managers still have an important role to play in an employee’s day to day, but the job description has changed. Communication has always been an important part of a manager’s role but today that communication is focused on the big picture more than ever.

Related: How to Stop Micromanaging Your Team

A key way to make this shift is to break free of email as the sole means of internal communication. Email is well known for being a productivity killer; team members are inadvertently left out of email chains, the lack of instant response slows feedback and progress and an overflowing inbox quickly leads to increased anxiety.

Fortunately, new communication tools are changing the way information flows throughout an organization. With better visibility into a team, managers have the broad oversight and confidence to butt out and let employees do their jobs. Each employee is given clear responsibilities and deliverables, which they can execute autonomously without constant progress reporting.

Open lines of communication are also changing the way we run meetings. Instead of using weekly check-ins for reporting, this time can be used to celebrate success and motivate people. Instead of a weekly examination, meetings can be a pep rally for the future.

Beyond one-on-ones, establish a monthly all-hands meeting to prevent the company from becoming siloed. Don’t wait until there’s a burning issue or milestone to get the team together. A regular cadence of company-wide communication gives employees a better sense of the big picture vision, how everyone is contributing to progress and an opportunity to have a voice. These are also an important opportunity for different teams to hear from each other and socialize -- including time for casual chat, which helps encourage relationship building.

When managers are not stuck pushing paper up and down the chain of command and watching over shoulders, they’re free to do more strategic work. Better communication empowers employees and sets up managers to be better at their jobs. Simple workflow changes can make a big impact on job satisfaction and in turn, improve overall productivity and the bottom line. 

Related: 6 Alternatives to Micromanaging Employees