Why must managers learn to love micromanaging?

Working with managers over the last decades I am getting more and more convinced that despite trainings (or because of a lot of poor ones) managers have got confused about the concept of management.

When they complain about performance issues in their teams, they quickly come to a popular saying that they hired adults and are not going to babysit a person with several years of experience. They don’t want to micromanage their team members.

  •  They often have far too little understanding of what their people are working on, and they justify this by declaring that they hate micromanagement or by claiming that they totally trust their subordinates. Gallup’s study confirms that “only 34% of employees strongly agree that their manager knows what projects or tasks they’re working on.”

  • They tell endless stories about that bad meetings, boring meetings, ineffective ones they attend. If you’re having bad meetings, you are likely to make inferior decisions, you are almost certainly not talking about the right things and there is a very good chance that your team members are having bad meetings with others too. They don’t see meetings as the most important work that a manager does.

  • They are fed up with team buildings full of adventure activities that are perceived as bond as a group. They simply delegated the task to their head of HR. We all know, this does not work. And that’s not a knock against HR folks.

  • They are trained to see management as a set of bureaucratic, overly structured activities like writing goals, conducting performance reviews, and determining compensation.

  • A friend of mine was a HR generalist at a multinational giant. One day the director of the unit she supported called her into his office. He explained that one of his employees had a body odor, and he wanted her to confront the smelly person, because he didn’t want to do it himself. Often, managers just deal with the stuff they enjoy. The stuff they know about. And delegate the rest.

Let’s sum it up. For a long time, you run terrible meetings, and you don’t care. You don’t manage your people, or your team and you don’t care. You can’t have uncomfortable conversation with your people. You spend most of your time doing the things you feel like doing.

How can intelligent and hard-working managers overlook something so basic and important as managing their subordinates?

The best way to figure it out is to ask yourself: Why did you want to become a manager? Or you can be even more precise: why did you want to be a manager at <your company>?

Are you driven? Want to succeed, like to compete, want to improve? Want to make an impact? Is it the prize that keeps you going forward?

Let me make it crystal clear: all this is about you and not about the company and certainly not about the people who you are responsible for. Most managers today don’t generally see their role as a privilege or a duty. They see it as a right or an earning instead. When I was a CEO I actually used to think this way, that being a leader was a reward for my hard work and competence. If you think like this your motive for leadership may not be quite right.

You may argue that you work your gut off for your company. You are right and you are wrong. You might be working hard, but you are not doing it for the company. You are doing it for yourself.

I’m not blaming, it might work for you, but it never works for the people or the organization you’re supposed to be leading. Some managers fail to achieve organizational health because they possess an almost unconscious unwillingness to do the difficult task and confront the challenging situations. This unwillingness comes from a flawed and dangerous motivation for becoming a manager. We can talk all day long what you are supposed to do, but if you don’t understand why you’re leading in the first place it is pointless. If leading for rewards becomes the norm, young people will believe that this is what it means to be a leader. The wrong people will aspire to be managers, CEOs, and civic leaders, condemning the society to more of the same for generations to come.

Let me give you some practical reasons why managers must learn to love (micro)management.

Firstly, seniority does not mean maturity. Just because someone is in his forties or works for 10 years and has lots of experience doesn’t mean he doesn’t need to be managed. When I tell this to my clients, they say “oh, that’s what you are meaning, I always emphasize to my people that I don’t tolerate being political and acting like a child.”

Does it work? – I ask often. If I ask your people whether they are open and honest with each other what would they say?

I guess they’d probably say we have to work in that area.

And what are you doing about it? Do you have direct and uncomfortable conversations with them?

Maybe not, because you loathe it. And you are right, a very few people like to do it. I fully understand that there is nothing comfortable about turning to a man whom you know, who is of similar age to you and who is talented and telling them something that makes them feel momentarily bad. I have to admit that I don’t like doing this, and I used to be really hesitant to do it. Until I realized that holding back was actually an act of selfishness. I wasn’t avoiding those conversations for the sake of my employees’ feelings, but for my own. In the end, I was trading off my discomfort for theirs, leaving them to experience even greater pain when their shortcomings were in the spotlight during a performance review, a compensation discussion, or worse yet, an exit interview.

Secondly, managing someone is not a form of punishment, nor a sign of distrust. In fact, trusting someone is not an excuse for not managing her. And it doesn’t change based on a person’s seniority or tenure. Even Lionel Messi needs a good coach. Why in the world would you think your Team Lead doesn’t need it? Management is the act of aligning people’s actions, behaviors, and attitudes with the needs of the organization and making sure that little problems don’t become big ones. When the shit hits the fan, e.g. a key performer leaves the company, are you usually surprised or do you see it coming? Frankly, we are always surprised and definitely aren’t happy about it.

It’s about keeping your people engaged in the most important conversations and holding them to higher standards. It is the benefit of direction and guidance and knowing how subordinates are progressing is far from micromanagement. Avoiding this is nothing but negligence.

Thirdly, if a manager doesn’t see team development as one of his most critical roles, he is not going to take it seriously, and it’s not going to be effective. He sits back and hopes that a HR or an external consultant will manage the emotions, allowing him to get the benefits of building a team without the messy cost. This never works. You must make sure that your team members work together and aren’t getting blocked by internal politics and confusion. I’m talking about day-to-day development of your team, like getting them to be honest with each other and negotiate well. Making sure they can call each other on their bullshit when they’re not focused on what they should be doing.

You can’t say that you don’t care if a good performer farts loudly in the canteen or plays at his phone during meetings, because you are ignoring the impact she’s having on others. And it’s going to affect her ability to get them to do her job. You have to see this. You have to confront people about their issues, as unpleasant as it might be, you can’t cherry-pick what to do based on what you like doing. It sucks, but it has to happen, you can’t expect anyone else to do it for you.

It’s not babysitting, it’s not micromanagement. It’s management. You can’t ignore it, you can’t delegate it, it is your job as a manager. And yours alone. The only people who call this micromanagement are employees who don’t want to be held accountable. And managers who don’t want to manage at all.

Is just a question of management styles, maybe one enjoys coaching people and staying out of the details? Maybe. Maybe not. But that’s not the point at all. The point is, you can delegate finance and sales and technology and operations and all these things. But you can’t delegate your job, managing your team and the organization around you.

Being a manager is a responsibility. You need to change your general attitude. Managing individuals closely is about helping them set the direction of their work, ensuring that it is aligned with their peers, and identify potential obstacles and problems as early as possible. It is about coaching them to improve themselves behaviorally to make it more likely that they will succeed. Your responsibility is to support team members to discover their strengths and build on them every single day at work. You must be a catalyser between their talents and performance. If your people are not engaged with their work, it is better to quit management, you are in the way.

When you have to deep dive into an issue between sales and delivery teams, or when you have to give someone a final warning about having to change her behavior, or when you have to give the same bloody speech to your newcomers, or when you have to go to the call center and remind them that they’re the front line of the company, or when you have to do something that no one else can because you are the manager and they are not, you must smile and thank God that you are making the difference. It’s about doing the job, not just having the job.

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