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Are You Hands On, or Are You Micro-Managing?

Are You Hands On, or Are You Micro-Managing?

The problem with micro-management is that in the short term it seems to get results. Asking for frequent updates on a project, wanting to know why a staff member chose supplier A instead of B, gives a manager the sense that the job is being done as thoroughly as if it were being done by themselves.

This feeling of control and ownership is central to the micro-manager’s motivation – they take pride in knowing everything and will often tell staff that they are “hands-on.” But behind their backs they are known as “micro-managers,” and there is a big difference between the two terms. Let’s look at the differences between them and what the long-term outcomes are for each.

The ‘sleeves rolled up’ school of hands-on management 

Hands-on managers allow staff to develop their own potential and allow them to actively participate in the direction of the business. Hands-on managers know all the staff members’ names, their backgrounds and relationships. Hands-on managers know all about the systems that staff use and the problems inherent in them. But hands-on managers also know that supervising means stepping in when required. This is an important point – a hands-on manager is prized for their sensitivity, and for knowing when not to interfere but to allow someone to get on with their job.

If a hands-on manager sees someone struggling with a task, they will ask if the person is okay, or whether more help or resources are needed. If the staffer says they are coping, the hands-on manager will back away, while still monitoring the situation to make sure that the staffer remains on track. In the long-term, this encourages individual thinking, motivates staff to solve their own problems, and means the manager can use their time to perform higher order tasks.

The illusion of micro-management

A micro-manager, on the other hand, encourages dependency on themselves. They behave as if their presence is the only thing that keeps the business running smoothly. If they see someone struggling, they immediately want to know the details. Did the staffer email so and so about the problem? If so, the micro-manager wants to read the email. Why didn’t the staffer try this or that solution? How many times did the staffer call the person involved? What did they say exactly?

The micro-manager’s belief that only their presence keeps the business running becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. After repeated attempts to participate, staff will stop showing initiative because there is no point. The micro-manager always knows how to do things better, and rather than get reprimanded, staff find it easier to let the micro-manager take over. Fed up with watching from the sidelines, the best employees resign. The rest work hard at flattering the micro-manager’s abilities… while said manager does their jobs for them.

An example of the two approaches

The fax machine is often a key control zone for micro-managers. When someone needs to use it, the micro-manager wants to know why. In contrast, a hands-on manager will show staff how to fax from their PC. Knowing how to send a fax online means staff can show initiative, and communications can also be kept confidential when necessary. It also has the added benefit of doing away with the office fax machine, with its paper trail, toner issues and line rental.

So if you find yourself insisting that staff cc you on every email, you’re probably a micro-manager. Instead, try the hands-on approach – let staff show initiative, and only step in when needed. That way staff will remain committed to the success of your business, and you will sleep better!

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