This article is included in Entrepreneur Voices on Strategic Management, a new book containing insights from more than 20 contributors, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders.
I need to get something off my chest. Early in my career, when I first had employees working for me, I was a micromanager. It’s not something I’m proud of, but I was so focused on how their work reflected on me as a manager that I found it difficult to overcome my need to control what they did.
And that wasn't wise: Instead of nurturing my employees' strengths, my micromanagement was driving a wedge between me and them. Every day, I could see the unnecessary stress I was putting on everyone. Had I continued down that path, the consequences might have been deadly. Literally.
While the negative health impacts of high-stress jobs have been known for years, new research has found that mixing that stress with micromanagement increases the odds of employees’ early deaths.
This November study from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business looked at how stress and levels of control affected 2,363 employees. When comparing highly-demanding jobs, those that also gave employees less control were associated with a 15.4 percent increased chance of death.
While no one wishes an early grave on their employees, micromanagers can still find it difficult to loosen the reins. Instead of thinking about the control being given up, however, they should focus on what's gained by backing off.
Here are five ways to trade in micromanagement for a healthier and more productive leadership style:
1. Include employees in the goal-setting.
At the heart of my own micromanagement tendencies was the fear that my employees would make me look bad. If they failed, that outcome would tell our overall boss that I was a failure. Because of that fear the goals I set for my staffers weren’t based on their individual potential, but rather what I wanted from them. Understandably, they weren't exactly motivated.
The key, then, is to get employees involved with the goal-setting process so they can see purpose in their work. Unfortunately, that sense of accomplishment is something many lack.
The 2016 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement report from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) looked at 600 employees’ feelings about their jobs. Only 30 percent of respondents were satisfied with how their work contributed to the overall success of the company.
The message? Sit down and have a conversation with employees about the organization’s goals. Instead of telling them what numbers they need to hit, ask them how they can help contribute to the bigger picture. That will give the team more independence and ownership over the value of their accomplishments.
2. Foster a two-way conversation.
One of the biggest issues with micromanagement is that it’s one-sided. Everything has to be done the manager’s way, which is probably why the aforementioned SHRM survey found that only 37 percent of employees participating said they were very satisfied with the respect and consideration their managers gave their ideas.
Remember, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. And employees might even know the best way.
Instead of barking orders, ask employees for their ideas and opinions. Discuss how they work best and how they can work most efficiently. If they see a different way to do things, let them give it a shot. After all, as long as they get the job done and do it well, what does it matter if they choose a different method?
3. Cut ties with the office.
Flexible and remote work options are scary for micromanagers. It takes employees out of their line of sight and away from their control. But the truth is that most employees are more productive when they’re given the freedom to work where they’d like.
In an August Flexjobs survey of more than 3,100 professionals, 65 percent said they worked better in a location outside of the traditional office. Whether that's because employees want to get away from office distractions or because they feel more inspired working in a coffee shop, micromanagers need to unchain employees from their desks.
Accept that employees might work better when no one is looking over their shoulder, and let them work where they want. This will give them more professional independence and take away your own temptation to micromanage.
4. Make employee recognition personal.
There’s an inherent disconnect in most employee-recognition programs. Sure, employees are acknowledged, but even their rewards are micromanaged. Rewards are chosen by management or other company leaders, making these honors less than meaningful to employees.
However, when employees get to choose their own recognition, it’s more effective. That’s what makes recognition platforms like Blueboard stand out.
Blueboard allows managers to reward employees, but employees choose how to redeem those rewards. They can choose from a variety of experiences that enrich their individual lives -- spa treatments, tickets to a sporting event or countless other memorable events that actually mean something to them.
Instead of acknowledging employees in a way that management dictates should make them feel good, they can choose their own satisfaction. That makes the recognition more personal and more motivating.
5. Focus feedback on results.
Great feedback allows employees to learn and grow. If a manager simply says, “You need to do things this way instead,” employees feel controlled. They’re not being guided; they’re being micromanaged.
The better option is to focus on facts and results rather than the process. For instance, if a goal of winning 10 new accounts has been set, have feedback revolve around whether or not those expectations have been met. Employees can look at their results and think about whether or not their process worked as well as they’d hoped. They can see what they’re doing right and what’s leading to their success, as well as how they need to adapt.
This type of feedback gives them more control over how they improve. It’s more collaborative than being told what they’re doing "right" or "wrong."
Micromanagement can be tempting, especially for new leaders. The less control employees have, the lower the chances for unwanted surprises. But in reality, micromanaging is bad for employees and bad for company productivity. Remember that before getting overly involved with how employees work.