The term “micromanagement” has a negative connotation and for good reason. In general, people don’t like to have someone literally or figuratively looking over their shoulder while they perform their work. At the same time, managers are often faced with employees who—for a variety of reasons—ask for more help in performing relatively straightforward tasks.
This could be because they simply want to shift their work to someone else, but it’s often because they are unsure of themselves and afraid of making mistakes. It’s ultimately a confidence issue.
When Employees Fail to Take Initiative
When an employee frequently asks for help or clarification on items that shouldn’t necessarily require help or clarification, an admittedly “tough love” approach is to find a way to avoid responding while upholding the task’s deadline. At the end of the day, the manager can follow up with a simple question: “Did you get that figured out?”
For example, an employee is tasked with compiling a report on competitor marketing practices in a given industry. The employee continually asks questions like:
- “Who are the competitors I should focus on?”
- “What metrics should I be using?”
- “Where do I get the resources to find the data?”
These are all questions the employee can potentially find the answers to on his or her own if the individual puts in the time and effort. But it’s easier and more reassuring to simply ask the boss. The problem is that the boss has other work to do, which is why the work was delegated in the first place.
If the boss keeps providing these answers, he or she will never instill the independence and self-confidence the employee needs to be effective. But by not providing the answers while still requiring a deliverable on a set schedule, the employee has the choice of either finding the answers or missing the deadline.
Boosting Initiative by Not Providing the Answers
After sufficient time, when the manager checks in and says, “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to get back to you earlier. Did you get that figured out?” he or she will typically find that the employee did, in fact, get the task figured out because it wasn’t something that required escalation in the first place.
Obviously, this technique isn’t appropriate in all situations. There are legitimate situations in which escalation to a subject matter expert or manager is the right approach. But often, some team members escalate too quickly.
Forcing employees to find their own answers may seem like throwing them in the deep end of a pool, but when it’s a task or question they can easily handle themselves, having to find their own answers can ultimately help develop independence and self-confidence.