Recently, Don Tinney, co-founder of the Entrepreneurial Operating System® (EOS®), published a blog on the dangers of micromanagement. Don noted that in quarterly update meetings, leaders sometimes want to drill deeply into details about a project’s status, rather than simply ask if the project is on track or off track. The blog concludes with the wise advice: “Trust your people, don’t micromanage.” This blog sparked a question from one of our clients: what if you have young, new, or inexperienced members on the team? Don’t they need extra help? Where does “help” turn into “micromanagement”?
In the email discussion which followed, I (Rip) was thrilled to see the company’s leadership swiftly zero in on four key principles:
1. It is a leader’s responsibility to spend extra time teaching inexperienced team members how to manage projects.
Some team members lack the skills necessary to manage projects effectively. This may be because they are young, or because they never had a role that required project management. They have the ability to learn, however. It is your responsibility as a leader to equip and empower these team members to realize their full potential. Such coaching is not micromanagement – it is setting up the team member for success.
2. At the beginning of a project, it is helpful for leaders to have an inexperienced team member create a project plan and to review the plan with them.
The time to teach project management skills is when a project is first assigned. Then and there, have the team member define the discrete tasks that need to be taken to accomplish the overall objective, and create a timeline for those tasks. However, once that project plan is created and approved, you need to challenge the team member to accept full responsibility for carrying out the plan. State clearly, “You have my trust for this project. That means if you tell me during a meeting that the project is on track, I am going to trust you. It also means that if the project goes off track, I trust you to tell me. I am not going to review the interim steps and deliverables with you. That being said, if you have questions or concerns during the course of the project, come to me and I will support you.”
3. Asking team members constantly for updates to verify if their tasks are on track is micromanagement.
Probing for details can be very tempting, but doing so does not help people develop professionally. You need to give your team members the room they need to do the work and to learn by experience how to get interim steps done in order to achieve the larger goal. In contrast, micromanagement actively inhibits growth because you are saying, in essence, “I’m not willing to give you full ownership, responsibility, or accountability for achieving this goal.” If you want self-directed team members, you have to get out of the driver’s seat.
4. If a team member cannot keep projects on track after several quarters of coaching, the leader should consider whether that is the right person to be in that seat.
While it is your responsibility as a leader to coach new, young, or inexperienced team members on project management, it is also your responsibility to recognize when the lessons just aren’t being learned. Certainly, it may take a few quarters of coaching and repetition for a team member to “get it.” But if you find that deadlines are consistently being missed after a reasonable amount of time has passed, then you need to ask the harder question: “Is this the right person for this role?” Don’t slip into the trap of micromanaging someone who is in the wrong seat so that projects stay on track – that is not your job! Your job is to get the right person in the right seat.
May I say in conclusion that our client company’s leaders hit the mark dead on and I give them high praise for discerning what is appropriate and effective leadership behavior!