a better way of viewing this is as a spectrum, not an
“either-or” problem. You don’t either micromanage or
empower. Consider it as a process instead-some clever
people have actually identified stages for these sort of
I have to say I can’t quite make up my mind though if I
should be in total awe of their cleverness of be annoyed
beyond belief at their smartness which just makes life
complicated for the rest of us. But I digress.
The options that these clever people provide us usually
help to make things clearer and more manageable. And I
doubt there are more “less clear” and “less manageable”
things in the world than people management.
Hit you at the pain point? Right, read on then.
Let’s imagine another day in office There is a newbie
who has just joined and there is a boss or supervisor.
The normal scenario that takes place in most work
relationships with a newbie is the boss or the more
experienced colleague hovering over and saying things
like “you see-that’s exactly what I was saying would be
the problem if you did that” or”no,no,trust me, this is
the best way to do it; Ihave approximately 165,487 hours
of doing it this way”
I am not convinced this is the path to employee
engagement and sustaining motivations. What do you need
to do then?
You, dear leader, need to start expanding you options
for managing people. The issue become limited if viewed
within the scope of either micromanaging or empowering.
Let’s consider the continuum-you micromanage, then you
delegate, follow up with empowering and finally you
partner. Sound a bit more interesting?
I don’t know at which exact point in management history
did the idea of micromanagement become the North Korea
of the management lexicon, but there you have it.
We ebb and flow with the times and today’s workforce
will run many miles away from you if they so much as
smell a hint of micromanagement happening in the
company. Very different from a not-so-distant past where
employees expected to be micromanaged!
In 2009, Towers Watson conducted a survey of 20,000
employees across 22 countries and the respondents were
asked to assess the effectiveness of their immediate
managers. One key differentiator was time allocation.
The best managers tend to be able to juggle their time
more effectively, thus actually have more face-to-face
time with employees than their less-effective peers.
Seventy-five per cent of respondents who said they have
effective managers interact with them at least daily.
Employees who say they have effective managers also feel
more comfortable working independently. So here lies the
perplexing conundrum; better managers have more contact
with their people, which makes employees feel more
capable of working with less manager contact.
Where it starts to stink up the room is when managers
decide to become overbearing hulks of the office. What
you get involved with dotting every “I” and crossing
every “t”? Yes, it shows a lack of trust and very often,
If you go back to your office and write down all the
problems with your employees-and your list turns out to
include some of these terms; “no initiative, does not
seem to be creative, stressed, demotivated,
incompetent…”- then it might pay to revisit your
management style instead of prescribing remedial actions
like a retreat of retraining workshops! These are the
normal symptoms of a micromanaged employee.
And thus you arrive at the conclusion that
micromanagement isn’t such a good idea after all. Not
just because it has cost you many invites to office
gatherings but also because you realize the more time
you spend on things like ensuring you employee’s pencil
is sharpened to within 0.1mm of specifications, the less
time you are going to have to “sharpen your own saw”; to
quote Stephen R. Covey.
You see, there reaches a point in an organization’s or
department’s life cycle where resources are stretched
and you are forced to hire to get more work done.
When that happens, leaders need to ensure their time is
spent well and one option available is to hire and
delegate work. The whole idea is to become more
efficient and strategic and you cannot do that while
Let me spill a secret. Delegating is actually a pretty
easy thing to do. You just have to ensure that you don’t
stop your interactions after explaining the whats and
the hows of a task and responsibility.
The key is to ensure you also articulate very clearly
the why a particular job is done and why it’s done in a
certain way. You would be amazed at the magic that
context brings to a task!
“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to
pick good men to do what he wants done, and
self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them
while they do it.”
- Theodore Roosevelt
Jan Yager, in her book Work Less, Do More, suggests
doing some of these things to ensure you get the maximum
benefit out of delegating to your employees:
- Choose what tasks you are willing to delegate. You
should be using your time for the most critical tasks of
the business, and the tasks that only you can do.
Delegate what you can’t do, and what doesn’t interest
you. For example, non-computer types should consider
delegating their social media, website, and SEO (search
engine optimization) activities.
The best managers tend to be able to juggle their time
don’t stop your interactions after explaining the whats
and the hows of a task and responsibility.
employees are engaged employees.
you can trust as a partner allows you to move to other
the best person to delegate to. Listen and observe.
Learn the traits, values, and characteristics of
those who will perform well when you delegate to
them. That means giving work to people who deliver,
not people who are the least busy. This requires
hiring people with the right skills, not the least
expensive or friends and family.
those to whom you delegate. It always starts with
trust. Along with trust, you also have to give the
people to whom you delegate the chance to do a job
their way. Of course the work must be done well, but
your way or the highway is not the right way.
Delegate responsibility and authority, not just the
task. Managers who fail to delegate responsibility
in addition to specific tasks eventually find
themselves reporting to their subordinates and doing
some of the work, rather than vice versa. And,
finally, the most important and easiest but
something that many leaders fail to do:
public and written credit. This is the simplest
step, but one of the hardest for many people to
learn. It will inspire loyalty, provide real
satisfaction for work done, and become the basis for
mentoring and performance reviews.
And so, after progressing from micromanaging to
delegating, we now arrive at a point when we start
to think that maybe the old adage ”if you want to
get something done right, do it yourself” is not
such a smart statement after all.
Having delegated work successfully, a leader would
now be able to focus on more of the visionary work
required for both personal and organizational
development. But the process doesn’t stop at simply
delegating work. When employees become competent,
it’s time for you to start empowering them.
What exactly does “empower” mean? Empowerment can be
defined as the process of enabling (or authorizing) an
individual to think, behave, act and control work and
decision-making in autonomous ways. It is not an
implementation, and it is only partly a strategy.
Rather, it is a philosophy; it is the state of feeling
selfempowered to take control of one’s own future and
fostering a culture wherein this state can thrive.
That of course sounds very much like a Gen-Y description
of their Ideal manager. It probably is a much more 20th
century notion with all the multitudes of information
that’s everywhere and children aged one already on their
third smartphone, thus making them better informed and
exposed. But it is not a new idea, nor is it a bad idea.
Allowing people to think and act can actually lead to
big breakthroughs for organisations.
“From my experience, an un-empowered workforce is more
likely to operate in a slow hierarchical decision-making
manner that ultimately affects customer service and the
success and profitability of the business, “said Nina
Ramsey, senior vice president of global human resources
for Kelly Services.
“It is important that employees feel connected to the
company strategy, their role, their leaders and their
team in order to secure their willingness to give
discretionary effort and commitment to stay with the
Empowered employees are engaged employees. They have all
tools they need to learn and grow, connect with
colleagues and others throughout the company, make their
own decisions, be leader and contribute to the success
of the business. Put another way, empowerment is a key
driver of engagement.
Several of the 12 “elements of great managing” as
determined by the Gallup Organization are directly
related to employee share the following attitudes toward
their jobs, according to the Gallup research:
the materials and equipment I need to do my work
the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
is someone at work who encourages my development.
work, my opinions seem to count
mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my
job is important.
last six months, someone at work has talked to me
about my progress.
last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn
you are not just convinced that empowerment is not just
an option but is now considered a necessity, let me
regale you with more research insights.
Having an empowered workforce should be a priority for
organizational leaders for the following reasons:
employees also result in a higher retention rate. I
turn, this gives an organization a larger talent pool
and, as a result, more and better options for succession
planning-an increasingly important factor for success as
the organization develops.
empowered workforce is higher performing and more
productive. When people are empowered, they are more
engaged-translating to higher levels of productivity
and increased revenue. Research by the Forum for
People Performance Management & Measurement found
that organisations with engaged employees have
customers who use their products more, which leads
to higher customer satisfaction levels.
empowered is more aligned with an organization’s
business goals. Empowered employees are in sync with
the overall goals of the business. Alignment means
they have right skills, knowledge and expertise
required to support current and future
initiative-contributing to greater talent readiness
and succession planning Alignment also helps
management gain better business intelligence and
insight regarding the workforce-allowing them to
make smarter business decisions and be more agile in
shifting business conditions.
Take for instance a widely cited example of an empowered
organization-Southwest Airlines. At one point, this
airline was the carrier with the fewest customer
complaints, a picture of operational efficiency with the
fastest turnaround time, never having a history of any
major accident, and weathered the recession with
considerable ease when others were struggling to stay
At one point, it was the only American airline company
to post profits. The airline flies 2,318 passengers per
employee, the highest in the industry where the average
is 848 passengers per employee for the industry.
What did they do differently from their competition?
Simple as it may sound, empowerment was the key to
ensuring the workforce did the right thing and not
strictly doing things right.
There is a famous anecdote whereby (a bit of context,
this was in days before 9-11. Today, any employee doing
this would probably be waterboarded) a famous author had
misplaced his travel documents at the boarding gate and
instead of putting the poor man through the bureaucratic
hassle that would naturally come with such
absent-minded-ness, the Southwest Airline staff verified
the author by identifying him with the book he was
carrying and which he was en route to speak about.
Can you imagine the positive publicity this one act
would have generated? Facebook and Twitter were still
ideas appearing in Zuckerberg and Dorsey’s dreams at the
point of this episode. If something like this happened
today in 2014, try to quantify that positive publicity
into earning potential and you tick all the boxes as to
why employee empowerment just isn’t an option anymore.
Unfortunately, most organisations are still wrapped
around the pinky of that most seductive of lures-power
The final stage of leadership and management
utopia-transforming an empowered employee into a
partner. Tom Peters, the guru of management gurus, once
said: “Management is about arranging and telling.
Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing.”
A mature and empowered organization would naturally
start producing new and dynamic ideas without the
prodding of its founding fathers (or mothers). When that
becomes the norm rather than an anomaly, you know you
have reached the point of partnership with an employee.
At this point, the leader should be more concerned about
retention and reward for the “employee partner” and not
with the product quality. An employee you can trust as a
partner allows you to can move to other endeavors while
simultaneously not worrying about the company that you
have built thus far.
Micromanagement has its place; partnering has its place.
The key is to understand when each of it is needed.
That’s the role of the leader.