Is Your Micromanaging Killing Office Morale?

Have a habit of micromanaging and experiencing a lot of turnover? Here are 5 strategies to help you create a culture of empowerment.
March 11, 2013 I once worked briefly for a very nice guy.

But I didn’t work for him long, because nice as he was, he didn’t let me do anything. I was accustomed to operating independently, but this guy had to approve every tiny task on every project. And to add insult to injury, he was hard to pin down. I spent several very long weeks staring at the four walls of my cube, hands tied, wishing I could get to work.

A few weeks after I managed to get myself transferred out of that group, I tried calling my office’s customer service department (said office shall remain nameless in order to protect the guilty). As is not uncommon in these situations, I had to talk to a dozen people before I landed on someone who could actually help me. It occurred to me that the previous 11 people at the  office were no different than I was in my last position. We were all unempowered.

As a manager or owner, you probably think you’re a pretty good boss and that your employees enjoy working for you. However, it’s worth taking a step back to assess whether this is really the case. If you have a habit of micromanaging, if you rule from the top down, if your staff seems listless and unmotivated and if you’re experiencing a lot of turnover, then perhaps you need to create a culture of empowerment. Here are five strategies to help you get there.

1. Allow Independent Decision Making

Once your employee has proved to be competent, let her make calls related to her areas of responsibility. Do not insist that she check with you—or anyone else—before moving forward, and for the love of God, don’t second-guess everything she does. Making regular decisions will give her the confidence she needs to be as productive as possible.

2. Let Them Do What You Hired Them to Do

Good managers don’t hire people who are clones of themselves. They hire employees who can supplement their own skill set and enhance the overall capabilities of the organization. Trust your employees to perform the tasks that they are better suited for than you, and provide them with the resources they need to do their jobs quickly and efficiently (software, training, contacts, etc.).

How to Get Disengaged Employees to Go the Extra Mile 

3. Encourage Open Communication

Establish a two-way dialogue so that your staff feels comfortable coming to you if a problem arises or if they are feeling dissatisfied. Make sure that they understand the big picture of the organization and what you are trying to achieve, and listen to their feedback about what you tell them. Your employees are closest to a lot of the work being done, so carefully consider their suggestions about how to run things.

4. Ask “Is it Worth It?”

On his Harvard Business School blog, my friend Marshall Goldsmith talks about a CEO who, before speaking, would always take a breath and ask himself, "Is it worth it?" The CEO learned that 50 percent of the time his comments may have been right on, but it was more important to empower employees and let them take ownership of contributions.

5. Walk the Walk

Telling employees that they are empowered doesn’t make it so. Both you and other organizational leaders need to demonstrate a pattern of letting employees run freely with their areas of responsibility.  If you fire them or otherwise indicate that independent behavior is not acceptable, your employees will be afraid rather than empowered.

Are you guilty of micromanagement, or have you been victim to it? We'd love to hear in the comments.

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