By far the most frequent complaint I hear from workshop attendees about their managers is this: "I hate being micro-managed." (Then they make a face like a child who has been told to eat her spinach.)
Employees who feel micro-managed have little motivation to offer their best to the organization. How do we resolve this problem?
The Obvious (But Inadequate) Solution
Most supervisors are promoted because they are good at a particular skill. When they become supervisors, they continue to do tasks for which they were previously rewarded -- even if they have assigned that work to others. However, the job role of supervisor is not doing the work, but getting the work done through others. Organizations typically address this skill gap by sending supervisors to training.Some will learn to delegate effectively with development and coaching; others will try, but revert to old habits under pressure.
So solving the problem of micro-management can be trickier than may appear on the surface.
Mobilizing a Total Solution
A better question might be: How can we work at multiple levels to build a culture where micro-management becomes extinct? This question yields a multi-faceted approach:
- Encourage Employee Feedback. Employees are frequently more inclined to complain to others about micro-management than to address discontent directly. We need to work with employees to overcome their fears and offer feedback to supervisors so that they recognize the impact of their behaviors on motivation (and retention). This is a big step for most employees, but without courage and "managing up" skills, few will ever achieve their full potential.
- Re-focus Underlying Motivation. I love this quote from the book Leadership Pipeline: "Skills applied without concomitant values are not applied with enthusiasm, energy, and innovation." It is not enough to acquire the skill of delegation; supervisors must come to "love" making others successful at doing the work they themselves used to do. Getting "juice" from new behaviors requires transformation to new values.
- Re-design Compensation. As long as the way to get a big raise is to get promoted, people who will never love developing others will continue to opt for the management track. Organizations create "micro-management cultures" when they do not offer a parallel track where individual performers can be rewarded financially for staying in a job role that matches their love of "doing the work." Furthermore, organizations must create disincentives to managers who never make the transition from a "do the work" to a "love making others successful" mindset.
Principle: To address motivation issues, work both inside-out and outside-in; encourage individual transformation reinforced by organizational systems.
1. What is the biggest complaint employees in your organization express? What has been done so far to address the problem? What is working? What is not?
2. How would you design a solution that encompasses both individual and systemic change? What levers need to be pushed in tandem for a solution that addresses the problem at its core?
3. Consider your own motivation level. What would need to change about your behaviors and attitudes to restore your motivation? What would you like to see your organization do differently? What action will you take to be an advocate for both individual and systemic change?