Not long ago, I co-hosted CNBC’s Squawk Box with Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank. A lot was debated that day, but at one point, Kevin offered the opinion, “Micromanagement is vastly underrated.” I think a few others on the set were a little taken aback given the bad rap micromanagement often gets, but I wasn’t among them. In fact, I totally agree.
Look, we all know horrible bosses who stick their nose into every little thing their people are doing and basically try to drive the bus from the back seat. We also know perfectly good managers who do the same kind of thing for a different and legitimate reason—because they know the people doing the real work aren’t yet ready to do it themselves.
Let’s put aside those two situations, and talk about the much more common occurrence of supervisors who get deeply involved in the day-to-day work of employees who are capable and competent.
And let me repeat myself: of that I approve.
Many of the challenges inherent to getting business right are judgment calls, based on the situation, the individuals, and the market context. And the same goes for micromanaging. As a manager, you have to take what I call the “accordion approach.” Get very close to your people and their work when they need you—that is, when your help matters—and pull back when you’re extraneous.
Now what do I mean by “when your help matters?” That’s the key question, and I’d answer it as follows:
- Your help matters when you bring unique expertise to a situation, or you can expedite things because of your authority, or both.
- Your help matters when you have highly relevant experience that no one else on the team brings, and your presence sets an example of best practices—and prevents costly mistakes.
- Your help matters when it signals the organization’s priorities, as in, “Hey, we have high hopes for this new initiative. That’s why I’m in the weeds with it.”
- Your help matters when you have a long relationship with, say, a customer or a potential partner, and your being at the table changes the game.
In such situations, you have to micromanage: It’s your responsibility. Just as it’s every employee’s responsibility to help the organization win.
Micromanaging only stinks when bosses do it because they have nothing better to do, or they’re unable to trust anyone (employees included). I’d never support that.
If you really know your people and their skills (as you should) and you’re aware of their passions and concerns (as you should be), you will know when to “squeeze the accordion” and draw close.
Similarly, you’ll know when to pull away and give them space. When your level of micromanaging grows out of strong, vibrant engagement with your people, have no fear. When you get involved, your team will know you’re in it for them. And when you step back, they’ll be in it for you, too.
This article was originally published on LinkedIn. It has been republished here with permission.
Photo of boss courtesy of Shutterstock.
Jack is Executive Chairman of the Jack Welch Management Institute. Through its online MBA program, the Jack Welch Management Institute transforms the lives of its students by providing them with the tools to become better leaders, build great teams, and help their organizations win. He is co-author, with Suzy Welch, of the new book, The Real-Life MBA: Your No-BS Guide to Winning the Game, Building a Team, and Growing Your Career, which debuted as a #1 Wall Street Journal and Washington Post best-seller.More from this Author