3 Strategies to Avoid Micro-Management

When do you become a micro-manager and ‘nitpicker?’  If an employee has made mistakes and you pointed them out before, when the next mistake occurs and you point it out to them, is it micro-management?

We don’t want employees to feel picked on and micro-managed. And they certainly don’t want it either. Micro-management damages employee engagement which can lead to damaged relationships and reduced loyalty to the company. Here are three powerful and effective strategies to avoid micro-management.

Think differently

Agree that nearly all mistakes are unintentional and come from the process not the person. Dr. W. Edwards Deming used the estimate that 94% of mistakes can be contributed to the series of interdependent processes in your organization (the system). (Deming, 1982)  Therefore when a mistake is identified, assume the employee had no intention of doing it. Study and improve his/her process instead.

Furthermore, mistakes are a natural outcome of the way the processes are designed and how and when the training was conducted etc.  Management is responsible for both factors.  The employees work in the system.  Management needs to work on it.

Behave differently

If such a large percentage of mistakes (94%) are unintentional, we need to design our conversations and behavior to avoid blame. We want to ask “process questions”. We may even want to avoid asking “why questions” because employees may not know why the mistake was made. Furthermore, unless employees have a way to measure their success, they may be unaware they even made a mistake.

Mistakes can be treated like data.  The number and/or frequency and/or seriousness of the mistakes are data and can therefore be presented without fear of embarrassing the employee. As long as the employee agrees with the definition of the mistake and the method of calculating the number of mistakes, embarrassment can be avoided.  

For example, a missed free-throw in basketball is obvious and can be easily counted.  The percentage of free-throws a basketball player makes and/or misses can be easily reported without the player feeling nit ‘picked.  If the percentage needs to improve then the employee can make an agreement to change his/her process e.g. practice more, hold the ball differently, look at the rim and not the backboard etc. 

Improve differently

Clarifying mistakes and clarifying how those mistakes are counted and reported can be presented without the fear of being nit-picked and micro-managed.  If there is no clear definition and no clear method for counting and reporting mistakes, micro-management can occur and emotional responses can get out of control.

The Learning Cycle is the tool for continuous improvement.  The Learning Cycle encourages experiments to find and remove the variation in processes.  Adopting the learning cycle, reinforcing it, encouraging it, and coaching it provides an opportunity for employees to self-manage their processes.

If these three strategies are in place, there is no need for micro-management. Like the basketball player who knows when they make a free-throw, when they miss, and what to practice, they can self-manage. They can be responsible for their own improvement. They don’t need or want micro-management.

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