Micromanagement: Productivity Hindrance or Tool for Productivity?

Can managers micromanage in a way that encourages employees to be more productive? At the outset, the question seems like a contradictory one. Typically, “micromanagement” conjures up images of a hovering employer, stressed out employees, and bad manager-employee relationships.

In an article from Thomas O. Davenport at Bloomberg Businessweek, Davenport suggests an intriguing change in mindset concerning micromanagement: “Positive micromanagement focuses on what people want and need from managers, rather than on what managers must do to feel in charge.” Davenport argues that managers should have regular and frequent contact with their employees. Using the right strategies, employers can leverage their contact with employees to encourage them to be self-sufficient and more productive.

While this goes against our traditional, pessimistic views of micromanaging, the bigger question is how to leverage your interaction with employees. More so than micromanagement, it becomes a question of motivation and making that hovering tendency—which may look like micromanagement to some—into a useful tool for helping your employees succeed and helping your team and the company be more productive in the long run. As a manager, how can you establish an effective system that encourages autonomy?

Avoid email and pursue personal contact. Make the effort to walk around to your employee’s desks rather than delegating from your computer screen. You’ll learn more and find out more about your employee on a day-to-day basis, rather than a meeting-to-meeting basis and you’ll get a better sense of what your employees may want or need.

Ask for updates rather than reports. Instead of requiring reports and metrics to track productivity quantitatively, ask your employees to keep you in the loop about updates on their regular work. Instead of requesting reports when predetermined checkpoints of productivity are reached, ask about small “wins” that are significant to your employees. If you frequent their workspace, ask for general updates about the state of day-to-day things as well as larger projects. Most likely, as you receive the answers to these questions, you’ll begin to see where certain employees may be hitting roadblocks to success. If you’re able, these should be removed so that they can move forward unencumbered.

Raise issues that are pertinent to your employees and ask for solutions. Davenport suggests that, “employees who take intellectual ownership of their jobs are more likely to feel stimulated and engaged and less likely to feel suffocated by managerial attention.” Engage your employees more frequently when problems arise instead of just taking care of them yourself. While this may take more time, it will show your employees that you appreciate their input, expose them to more within the company, and encourage them to take responsibility for all kinds of things—even some that might be outside of their job description. You’ll create more competent employees and you may be surprised by a previously unconsidered solution to the problem at hand.

In the end, this is less about managing your micromanaging and more about being an engaged manager. However, if you’ve been accused of micromanagement before, perhaps these tips are useful for turning your tendency to stick your nose in the details into the help your employees need to succeed on their own instead.

Do you think there is such a thing as positive micromanagement? Let us know in the comments!

IMAGE: Courtesy of Flickr by arriba