Become a Better Manager By Managing Less

Micro-management is the key error most people make when they hire their first staff member.

8 years ago, I made this mistake with my first staff member. At the time though it wasn’t micro-management. I was helping him. I knew the job better than him. So, he won’t mind if I tell him exactly what to do. And how to do it. And in what order. And when to do it. And if he’s taking too long or making some kind of mistake, he’ll be happy to step aside, and watch me do it.

Now I know that this wastes my time, wastes money, defeats the purpose of hiring him in the first place, and is extremely de-motivating for them.

To become a good manger, you must be comfortable with watching someone make a mistake. Go on with your own work. Provide help and guidance when asked. But don’t get in the way when someone is trying to do their job responsibilities.

It can be almost physically painful to let go. But you weren’t an expert your first time either. You made mistakes, and you improved over time. Allow your staff the same license, and let them blaze their own trail.

By doing this, you show them that you trust them. Thats highly motivating, great for your relationship, and great for job satisfaction.

You know that great feeling you get when you solve out a difficult problem? Don’t spoil it for them, and make sure to celebrate their achievement when they figure it out.

It Doesn’t Matter

This is another important point.

If someone makes a mistake, it almost definitely doesn’t matter.

The first time around, if they get to the solution by doing B, A, C, or A, A, C instead of A, B, C, that’s fine.

The first few times, the order may not be efficient, and may be more time consuming. But it doesn’t matter. You won’t remember it in 2 years, or even 2 weeks.

Once you accept this philosophy, your life becomes a lot easier, and you’re able to spend much more of your time being relaxed. It’s good for your health.

In most situations, the de-motivational effects of stepping in and showing someone the ‘right way’, far outweighs any benefits generated from that action.

Eliminating Micro-Management

But Jay, I have a complex business that requires people do everything the right way the first time.

Well, that’s bullshit.

You, your business, and your staff can only improve, and learn and grow by taking action, making mistakes, and by course-correcting.

However, in many situations there will be a time-tested way of performing a task, based on your skill and experience.

Then the question becomes, how can you help someone learn this process, without sapping their motivation and frustrating them with micro-management?

Here is a practical example from my IT service business Webnet IT.

Creating and Teaching a Process

  1. Name the process.
    1. IE, “Set up a New PC for a Customer”
  2. Define the process (highly summarised)
    1. Set up Windows.
    2. Set up email, printers, network drives.
    3. Inform the customer that the computer setup is finished.
      Let the customer sit down, and ask them to walk you through their daily functions to make sure everything works.
    4. Provide them with your business card, and let them know they can call you any time.
  3. Let the new staff member watch an experienced staff member performing this task.
  4. Let them perform this task with supervision. Watch them as they do it, and give them feedback (not in front of the customer, of course!)
  5. Allow them to do the task on their own.
  6. Provide access to the written process, so they can refer back to it as necessary.
  7. Make it clear that these processes are there simply to assist them. They don’t need to do it verbatim every single time. A sentence like:
    1. “By the way, this process manual is not set in stone. Once you learn the basics, you’ll remember all of this anyway. It’s just a useful checklist to help you remember all of the key points. We’re not looking to train a robot!”

The Magic Phrase

Too much work?

Well then, heres a single, magic phrase that will accomplish many of the same goals.

“How can I help you?”

This phrase does not shift the task responsibility. The responsibility is still squarely on your staff, and you’re simply offering your help. This is an important distinction.

When you tell someone to “step aside for a second”, you’re transferring the responsibility to yourself. Asking someone “How can I help you?”, lets you offer help in a way that does not take anything away from your staff member, and makes for a far more relaxed and enjoyable workplace.

Do you have any management tips or advice from your business? Please leave a comment, we’d love to hear from you.

Jay Winder

Jay Winder is the Australian Co-Founder of MakeLeaps. Jason came to Japan in 2001 to study martial arts, set up his first business called Webnet IT in 2003, and set up MakeLeaps in 2010 with the vision of unlocking the potential of freelancers and businesses in Japan with clean and powerful software. If you like, follow me on Twitter.

Other Posts by Jay Winder

This article has 1 comment

  1. I like this Jason. Another point would be that every once in a while, if you quit micro-managing, you may learn that there is a better solution or process that will improve your business. Being a good manager requires some humility and that means you can’t always assume that your way is the best way. After all, you hire people for their experience and knowledge in many cases so why would you want to waste that by being so sure that they have no new ideas to offer that could prove successful? Being open-minded can lead to some surprising results and trusting the employee enough to see what they have to offer also engages and motivates them.