Start connecting, stop micro managing – 6 essential steps

One of the biggest problems any leader can face is how to stay connected with what the team is doing without micro managing them or being seen to interfere.

This came up recently in a conversation with a senior leader who was trying to find out what their department was working on. He was asking for a breakdown of work plans for the next nine months, based on a daily account of activity. To him it seemed like a reasonable request but some people didn’t seem happy with the request and many just weren’t able to provide the information.

As a leader, you want to build trust with the people you’re leading. It’s one of the most important aspects of what you do, as without trust, you won’t create as much commitment, loyalty or motivation. To build trust, your people need to feel safe. Which is why requests for information, especially if they seem arbitrary or as though you’re checking up, can create suspicion and even a breakdown in trust.

So, what’s my advice for leaders who want to stay connected to what’s going on without damaging trust or being seen as a micro manager?

1. Understand work planning
If you’re leading in a call centre or an environment which is data and stats driven or where the norm is to plan work months in advance as part of a schedule or programme, then getting data should be straight forward. Where work isn’t planned in this way or where you are new to a team, the starting point is to find out what the planning process is and how data is captured. Then you can work with the team to establish how work can be reported in the future, based on what you need and what is available and relevant.

2. Be clear about what you need
I’ve seen many examples where leaders have requested data or reports and team members have blindly provided it, regardless of whether the data is readily available, relevant or useful. Without any context as to what the data is needed for, a lot of time and effort can be spent finding it or even making it up. When a leader is clear about what they need information for and they ask what is available or what could be made available, they empower the team to generate information that is likely to be more meaningful.

3. Know your people
As I mentioned earlier, if you’re working in an environment where people are used to reporting on day to day activities with longer term work plans in place, then getting your hands on facts, figures and progress reports may prove easier. In other environments, such as professional, knowledge-intense teams or in cultures where there is greater autonomy or little visbility of day to day activities , then you’ll need to consider how you approach measurement.

4. Focus on outcomes and objectives
Although objectives have been given a bad rap over the years, given their place in the often stigmatised annual appraisal process, this is where they come in handy.

When you are dealing with employees whose performance isn’t easily measured by daily or weekly data and targets, you need to find a different way of monitoring progress. By being clear about what a team is trying to deliver, over a certain time period, and understanding what the milestones and outcomes are, you can more easily measure progress. You can also put something in place by working with the team, if they aren’t already working in this way. The key is to empower them and to keep them involved in the process.

5. Behave like an adult
Very often leaders fall in to the trap of treating employees like children. They monitor their work too closely, tell them what to do, scold them when they get things wrong, and create an environment of fear due to an impersonal and data driven approach.

Although your scorecard and performance stats may look great, the people doing the work can often not be so great. As a leader it’s crucial to remember that you’re responsible for grown adults and if you treat them like children, they will often behave as such. A truly adult approach to leadership is to trust your people, to be clear about your expectations and the objectives / outcomes that need to be achieved, to set standards for performance based on modelling the behaviour you expect, to make it OK to fail and mess up by learning from mistakes, and to empower others to find ways of delivering results, whilst providing a hand on the shoulder.

6. Ask better questions
So, how can you get what you’re after without cramping your team’s style? Rather than getting down in to the detail and focusing on things at a task level, chunk it up. Go bigger picture to start with and if you need to drill in to the detail later then you can, as you’ll have a reason to. Starting with the detail or looking like you’re carrying out a forensic investigation can trigger people’s threat response which makes them defensive. That’s no good for them or you.

Questions that empower rather than control could be:
· What are your priorities for the next 6 months?
· I would really like ** information every week / month, what’s the best way of capturing that?
· How often do you think we should meet to run through progress?

This is all pretty common sense stuff and most of the time, all you have to do is consider how you’d like to be approached / communicated with and replicate that. Be human and act like an adult (rather than a parent) and you won’t go far wrong.