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The Language of Leadership Blog

Micromanagement Doesn’t Have to Be a Leadership Curse Word

Posted by Krister Ungerböck - The Language of Leadership on May 9, 2019 5:41:45 PM
Krister Ungerböck - The Language of Leadership

Most people put micromanagement in a category that includes root canals and interminable in-law visits. To be fair, they’re not entirely incorrect. Micromanagers are typically an organizational scourge. But what if there were a way to micromanage usefully?

It sounds like an interesting theory, right? Get this: It’s not theoretical. It’s a deliberate way of taking the best of micromanagement while jettisoning the worst of the practice. And when handled correctly, it can benefit any business.

From Boundlessness to the Road to Success

First, let’s look at what micromanagement is. To put it simply, a micromanager is someone who sets tight boundaries around an employee. Unfortunately, too many leaders go overboard in the process. They hover, they criticize, and they demoralize. As some researchers have observed, that’s a recipe that makes any department or business vulnerable to disruption.

For high-performance talent, micromanaging seems rather Big Brother-ish because it wastes time and energy. But what about a worker who isn’t meeting his targets or goals? In that case, micromanagement — when implemented correctly — might be a way to set parameters to help him succeed, not to punish him.

This isn’t an entirely new concept. In “High Output Management,” a groundbreaking book originally published in 1983, author Andy Grove coined the term “task-relevant maturity.” Essentially, it’s a way of managing superstars who killed it in one industry but are moving to a new industry. A top medical sales performer entering the real estate field, for example, has low task-relevant maturity in his new industry despite past successes. That person will likely require some micromanagement to build his knowledge level.

Of course, deliberate micromanagement can be a tricky thing. When embarking on it, follow these simple rules of the road:

  1. Call it something other than micromanagement.

Obviously, you’ll have to tell underperformers or new employees that you’ll be spending more time with them than you would with others, but you don’t want to make them feel like they’re being treated like children. Perception is reality, after all. Instead of referring to what you’re doing as micromanagement, try calling it something else, like a boundary agreement. Explain that you’re doing it because you believe they could ramp up their game or because of their lower level of industry understanding. Ensure they know that as they grow and improve, you will back away and let them soar.

  1. Share your end game.

Let’s pretend one of your sales professionals is consistently coming in 3 percent below target. Sit down with this person and explain that you want daily or weekly updates until her numbers get back on track. You have every right to get involved in what’s happening — and you might find that she feels a little relief because of your mentoring and help. That said, agree on a potential stop date for the micromanagement, perhaps when the sales rep hits targets for a certain number of months in a row.

  1. Create a document that outlines what will happen.

It’s not enough to just tell an employee your plans for increased management; you need to put it in writing. Explicitly outline the boundaries of what you discussed. For example, if you told a team member you were going to get involved in projects that cost more than $500,000, generate a written agreement that says just that. Remember that thoughtful micromanagement isn’t about checking in on every single item; you can micromanage an employee in one area while still offering an authority raise in another. It’s all a matter of individual needs.

The term “micromanagement” is often greeted like a four-letter word. But it doesn’t have to be. Like many managerial strategies, it can be a useful and effective tool when approached with clarity and forethought. Want to learn about other ways to manage for great outcomes?

Check out more powerful insights and ideas at https://www.krister.com/tools.

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Award-winning CEO and Leadership Keynote Speaker. Author. 

Krister Ungerböck grew his software company 3,000% – from a small team in St. Louis to hundreds of employees in 8 countries. Chart-topping employee engagement ratings of 99.3% led to 5 consecutive annual Top Workplace Awards.

As a global leadership expert – the world’s first Leadership Archaeologist – Krister has done business in 40 countries, built businesses in 6, and lived in 3. A retired tech CEO at age 42, he travels to the corners of the earth (so you don’t have to) in order to discover hidden, powerful leadership secrets.

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