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Micromanagement: Three ways to loosen your grip and empower your team 

By Jack Hagel 
July 01 2014

You know the type all too well: They want every task done a certain way. They nitpick your every decision. They want to know where you are – and what you’re doing – at all hours.

Micromanagers.

Fifty-nine per cent of employees have worked for a micromanager, according to a survey of more than 450 US office workers. And endless scrutiny from these independence-squelching bosses can have a negative impact.

Of those who have been micromanaged, 68% said it decreased morale, and 55% said it hurt their productivity, according to the survey, which was conducted by staffing firm Accountemps.

“Taking a heavy-handed approach typically hurts employee output, job satisfaction, and, as a result, retention efforts,” Max Messmer, the chairman of Accountemps, said in a news release. “Personally making sure every ‘T’ is crossed might help avoid some mistakes, but the costs associated with failing to trust your team can have a longer-term impact.”

If the thought of easing eagle-eyed oversight of your team’s activities makes you squirm, here are some tips from Accountemps – with insights from CGMA executives – on how to loosen your grip:

1. Don’t get bogged down by insignificant details. You don’t need to put your personal stamp on every item that passes your desk, and you don’t need to make changes to an employee’s work simply for the sake of making changes. Allowing yourself to get distracted by the little things takes away time and energy from bigger organisational objectives that could have a far greater impact on the bottom line.

“It’s a natural tendency that we all have – ‘If it’s easier for me to do it, I'm just going to do it myself,’ ” says Stefany Williams, CPA, CGMA, the CEO of Goodwill of Western Missouri and Eastern Kansas. “But you have to fight it, because all that’s going to do is turn you into a bottleneck.”

2. Keep the inquiries to a minimum. Persistent pestering about the status of day-to-day assignments will only impede an employee’s ability to finish them faster or more efficiently. Provide clear directions upon giving an assignment, and then trust your team members to do the job.

“Sometimes they’re not going to do it the way that you would have wanted them to, and sometimes that’s OK, too,” says Brenda Morris, CPA, CGMA, the CFO of 5.11 Tactical in California. “And if it’s not, then you help them and guide them back on the guardrails and have them move forward.”

3. Empower through delegation. Identify a task you currently handle that could be delegated to someone else. Assess the time and skills needed for the task and assign accordingly. Repeat. Giving team members a mix of responsibility and autonomy can help build problem-solving and leadership skills.

“Part of the challenge with encouraging your staff to innovate is that a lot of times we have such a clear expectation how they should do a project,” says Jenine Dalrymple, CPA, CGMA, the CFO of Southwest Energy in Arizona. “But I sometimes find if you give them the option to figure out what the steps are, who they need to interview, how they need to figure the parts and pieces out, that you get a better result.”

Some go straight to delegating results – not just tasks. By delegating results, team members have a vested interest in the outcome of what they’re doing, explains Robert Fowles, CPA, CGMA, the CFO of Opus One Winery in California. 

“It encourages out-of-the-box thinking and gets them involved in the entire process. I'm also always quick to ask the folks that report to me, how would they approach a problem? What's their recommended solution? And 99% of the time, I bet that's the way we go, their recommendation.”

Jack Hagel (jhagel@aicpa.org) is a CGMA Magazine editorial director.

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