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Finding the right balance between under and over management

Management is about balance. To be successful, leaders need to walk a fine line between providing structure and a clear sense of order and the creeping risk of micromanagement.

There are stereotypes of those who over manage. Control freaks. A-type personalities who want things to be a particular way. In reality, though, these are people who are afraid of making mistakes and actually concerned about the livelihood of their team – they want people to look good so take an overly hands-on approach. Unfortunately, this often has the opposite effect.

For leaders of growing, constantly evolving teams, finding the right balance between too much management and not enough is crucial to empowering employees to stretch and reach their full potential. Let’s look at some of the signs that your tactics are out of balance, and how to make adjustments.

Signs of Over Management

Over management comes in many forms, and many managers don’t realize they are doing it. What signs should you look for?

  • Double Checking Work Routinely – Whether it’s a lack of trust or fear of failure in meeting upcoming goals, managers can quickly fall into a routine of incessantly checking employee work without provocation.
  • Requiring CC’s on all Emails – It’s unlikely the average manager has time to read every email his team sends. So why require people to CC you? Set standards for when to loop you in and when to let people work independently to avoid making people feel like you’re always looking over their shoulder.
  • Limiting Break Time or Monitoring Computer Use – Sure, you want your employees to be working when at work, but what really matters is results, right? Recognize that the office doesn’t end at the door with constant access to email and task lists when at home. If the work is getting done and people are meeting their goals, an extra 20 minutes at lunch shouldn’t matter.

There are situations in which you may need to do one or more of the things on this list. After putting someone on a performance review plan, for example. But when you stop trusting your employees and start micromanaging their time and implementing draconian rules about lunch breaks and arrival times, you undermine morale in ways that are hard to compensate for. These people were hired for their expertise and insights. If you don’t respect and appreciate those things, they’ll start to look elsewhere.

Signs of Under Management

On the flip side, there are managers who take an overtly hands-off approach. They are in the office less, on the phone more, and rarely hold one-on-ones. The result can be a directionless team that doesn’t know what they are working towards or if they are on the right track.

While some employees thrive when given limitless autonomy, most people need to know that their efforts are contributing toward the greater good of the company. They want to know that they’ve done good work and that they are in alignment with the company’s goals. Frequently, in these situations, performance review results come as surprises, anxiety is constantly high, and productivity suffers without benchmarks against which to measure success.  

Finding the Right Balance

Good management is about finding a healthy middle ground between providing insightful feedback and being present for your team and giving the space to perform and grow.

What does that look like? Here are some key components of a healthy approach:

  • Regular One-on-One Meetings – While looking in on your team’s emails and hovering over their desks can be stifling, one-on-one meetings are a refreshing way to provide feedback (both positive and critical) and listen to employee concerns. Weekly meetings held with each member of your team can be hugely beneficial for both parties.
  • Providing Opportunities for Growth – Everyone is hired to perform a particular role, but as you get to know your employees, you’ll find many of them have additional skills and aptitudes – some that they didn’t realize they had. Over-managers will insist employees not overstep their job description, but these are perfect opportunities to foster growth in your team. Provide people with the chance to stretch – trying new things in new environments to test their skills.
  • Show that You Trust Your Team – One of the most important criteria for younger workers when job searching is flexibility. But letting employees work remotely, come in at odd times, and otherwise divorce from the traditional 9-5 requires you to trust them. A well-structured flex-plan that allows for remote hours alongside formal meeting times can be a great way to show that.
  • Reward Strong Performance – While being hands off and allowing your employees to perform their roles independently is important, they also want to know that you are paying attention. If someone grows an existing account, gets positive customer feedback survey results, or otherwise exceeds expectations in the office, reward them for it. Announce it during a team meeting or make a note of their accomplishments during their next performance review.

The goal here is to give people room to do what they do best, but make it clear you are paying attention and appreciate the hard work they put in. This can be difficult when you have tight deadlines, strict goals, and a rapidly growing team to manage, but the most effective managers are able to inspire a higher quality of work because of it.

For managers unsure of where they stand, employee feedback is vital. Receiving and acting on feedback from your employees that identifies what works, what doesn’t and what you may not be aware of can be a game changer in this type of environment.

Download our editable Leadership Development Plan and gain access to exercises that will help you give and receive 360 degree feedback.