What Happens When You Empower Employees Instead of Micromanage Them?
It’s difficult to take ownership and focus on being productive with your boss leaning over you, watching your every move. At workplaces where managers demand to sign off on all work orders, employees are often left waiting for approval on several projects at once and scramble to find ways of hitting pressing deadlines.
Thankfully, though, things are changing: "Micromanagement" is dead (or should be), and employee empowerment is one the rise. What does empowerment mean? It means treating each person as a trusted individual who enjoys ownership of his or her tasks.
As part of this growing trend, a major transition is happening: Organizations are becoming more team centric and re-focusing on the importance of developing leadership skills within the ranks of their talent -- and that requires empowering employees. The 2016 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report found that 89 percent of the 7,000 companies surveyed said that they viewed leadership as an important issue (up from 87 percent in 2015), and 57 percent said that leadership was very important (up from 50 percent).
So, why are companies making this shift from micromanaging, which usually involves overly delegating and “bossing” people around, to leading and instilling a sense of ownership and self-leadership among their employees? Here are two reasons why.
1. Micromanaging causes stagnation.
At its core, micromanaging is about control, which is fine to have, but control is not the backbone of a successful, long-term management strategy.
First, micromanaging removes accountability from employees. If employees never get the final say or must always follow strict processes, accountability falls on the shoulders of managers, who in turn have to answer to higher-ups when projects fail.
Micromanaging also kills creativity and diverse participation. No problem has only one perfect solution, so when management dictates every action and makes every decision, the company is limited. A team composed of diverse, unique perspectives can share ideas and opinions, collaborating to make the best decision or find the most effective solution.
Micromanagement, in contrast, chases away top talent and leaves a group of average workers who don’t know how to challenge the standard or aren’t motivated to improve their performance. They are rendered fully dependent on one person to make decisions and continue productivity, effectively killing any sense of independence.
2. Independent employees are happy employees.
A 2014 study published in The Sociological Quarterly found that educated employees work more when they’re granted autonomy over their schedules. In other words, when they set their own pace, they take ownership and put in more effort and time to get the results they want.
Advertising entrepreneur Jordan Zimmerman has commented on how his own management philosophy changed shortly after he started Zimmerman Advertising. "One of the biggest mistakes I made was not understanding the value of hiring the right people, empowering those people, trusting those people and realizing that everything doesn't have to come across my desk," Zimmerman told Entrepreneur. "You cannot micromanage anything and run a company this big."
When Zimmerman took that step back, he said, he found that his business flourished. Empowering employees improves job satisfaction and morale. An April 2014 study of 1,562 adults conducted by the American Psychological Association found that when employees felt valued by their employers, 92 percent of them felt satisfied in their roles, and 91 percent said they were motivated to do their best.
However, stepping back and allowing this trend to occur -- letting employees work and act with more independence -- isn’t as easy as flipping a switch and seeing a change. It begins with a major overhaul of company culture.
Making the cultural change
The transition to independent employees needs to occur at all organizational levels. Even the company’s vision and values may need to be rewritten. The change in mindset should be communicated in a clear, concrete way everyone can understand.
Managers need to stop bossing and start empowering employees. Everyone needs to become his or her own leader, and the company culture must evolve into one of shared accountability.
Action must occur on a daily, consistent basis. With the death of the micromanager and those bossy higher-ups of the past, strong leaders will likely emerge. They'll then focus on expressing gratitude and recognition for a job well done, and seeing people for their growth potential. They'll realize that most employees are hungry to learn; they'll instill confidence in others, helping them become the best version of themselves.
This won’t happen overnight. It requires a great deal of self-reflection, self-awareness and growth on the part of all managers. That control will loosen and turn into guidance and strong leadership. The company will benefit as a result.