Not long ago, I co-hosted CNBC’s Squawk Box with Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank. We debated a lot that day, but at one point, Kevin offered the opinion, “Micromanagement is vastly underrated.” I think a few others on the set were a little taken aback given the bad rap micromanagement often gets, but I wasn’t among them. In fact, I totally agree.
Look, we all know jerk bosses who stick their nose into every little thing their people are doing, and try to drive the bus from the back seat, creating micromanaging hell for their employees. We also know perfectly good bosses who do something similar but for a different and legitimate reason—because they know the people doing the real work aren’t yet ready to do it themselves.
Let’s put aside those two situations, and talk about the much more common occurrence of bosses who get deeply involved in the day-to-day work of employees who are capable and competent.
And let me repeat myself: of that, I approve.
The Paradox of Micromanaging
Like so many challenges inherent to getting business right, micromanaging is a paradox. Think about balancing long-term goals and short-term needs. Or giving a star performer the correct amount of praise versus challenge. These are all judgment calls, based on the situation and the individuals and the market context.
And so it is with micromanaging. As a manager, you have to take what I call the “accordion approach.” Get very close to your people and their work when they need you – that is, when your help matters—and pull back when you’re extraneous.
Now, what do I mean by “when your help matters?” That’s the fundamental question, and I’d answer it as follows: Your help matters when you bring unique expertise to a situation, or you can expedite things by dint of your authority, or both. Your help matters when you have highly relevant experience that no one else on the team brings and your presence sets an example of best practices—and prevents costly mistakes. Your help matters when it signals the organization’s priorities, as in, “Hey, we have high hopes for this new initiative. That’s why I’m in the weeds with it.” Your help matters when you have a long relationship with, say, a customer or a potential partner, and your being at the table changes the game.
In such situations, you have to micromanage. It’s your responsibility. Just as it’s every employee’s responsibility to help the organization win.
Micromanaging stinks only when bosses do it because they have nothing better to do, or they’re constitutionally unable to trust people, employees included. I’d never support that.
Ultimately, knowing how and when to micromanage comes down to engagement. If you know your people and their skills—as you should—and you’re in their skin about their passions and concerns—as you should be—you will know when to “squeeze the accordion” and draw close.
Similarly, you’ll know when to pull away and give them space. When your level of micromanaging grows out of strong, vibrant engagement with your people, have no fear. When you get involved, your team will know you’re in it for them. And when you step back, they’ll be in it for you too.
Source: This article was originally published on LinkedIn.