A manager I once coached, who we’ll call Walter, was delighted when he was promoted to direct the technology team at his biotech company. He had been working with this group for years and was familiar with their strengths.
Walter started his new role full of confidence, and he wanted to foster a sense of independence. But, after a few short months, most of that goodwill had eroded. Projects were veering off track, deadlines were slipping, and no one was taking the initiative to keep Walter informed. What had gone wrong?
Promoting a manager to a position where she or he needs to manage other managers creates a dilemma. Walter was skilled at nurturing collegial environments where assignments were well understood. It seemed only natural that when he began as a director, Walter would choose to maintain his management style, remaining hands-off about project completion. He didn’t want to micromanage.
Why Micromanagement Is A Problem
Micromanaging — staying in-the-know about all the nitty-gritty details and interfering with how someone works — is demotivating. It stifles innovation and keeps people from using their own judgment.
Of course, the opposite of micromanaging is neglect, and that’s certainly not an effective management approach, either. As Walter found out, when you assign a project but don’t monitor, you’re headed toward disaster.
What Walter needed was a management strategy that strikes a middle ground: one that could keep him up-to-date, without interfering with his staff’s independence
Adopting A MACRO-Management Mindset
To be a successful director, Walter needed to become a “macro” — not micro — manager. When you macromanage, you set clear expectations and define how performance will be measured. You welcome input and are willing to tweak the process.
Defined in that way, macromanaging may sound like a tall order. In fact, the key to effective macromanagement is nothing more than inquiry.
By inquiry, I mean initiating dialogue about assignments, asking open-ended questions that convey interest, accountability and autonomy. To activate and enrich these conversations, I suggest using a technique I call “zooming.” It’s a strategy that encourages managers to reflect on what is happening in their own individual processes, by zooming in or out through four different lenses:
• Think: Intellectual activities, such as weighted point factor analysis or budgeting
• Act: Doing something like writing a report, calling a meeting or creating a new product
• Feel: Recognizing emotions, empathizing and even creating a brand’s feeling
• Witness: Mindfulness and presence, as well as observing as if from a balcony
When you discuss assignments through these lenses, you’ll find that it’s easier for you and your team to articulate your perspectives and reach consensus about effective implementation tactics.
The Eight Steps To Successful Macromanaging
Are you ready to stop micromanaging and start macromanaging? Use these steps, recognizing how each one, in its own way, is designed to convey respect, inclusion, motivation and appreciation:
1. Set clear expectations. After you assign a project, have the manager working for you describe the outcome in her own words. Confirm that you have a shared vision and take this opportunity to shine a light on how her strengths and special skills will help the project succeed.
2. Establish clear milestones, weekly or bi-weekly. Break down big goals into smaller-sized chunks. That way, if results aren’t trending the way you want them to, you’ll have time to adjust.
3. Allow for open inquiry. Engage managers in the project by asking questions based on the four lenses described above. Encourage them to change their focus as needed. Ask questions like:
• What part of this is appealing? Zoom in using the “feel” lens, and explore any emotions you can now identify.
• What part of this is new and requires you to learn more or bring in more resources? Zoom in to the specific details of the new project using the “think” lens.
• How are you going to engage your staff in the importance of this? This time, zoom out through the “feel” lens. Will your staff be enthusiastic about being a part of this project?
• When we meet next week, what part of this do you plan to have designed or completed? Don’t fall back on old habits. Use the “action” lens to determine if there are new, more productive steps you can take.
• What obstacles if any do you anticipate? Zoom out through the “witness” lens. How does your view of potential challenges change?
4. Express appreciation for progress. When you focus on what’s working well, you reduce anxieties and invite participation. You also create a shared experience and an even stronger foundation on which to grow, experiment or try new things.
5. Discuss unanticipated obstacles. The open inquiry in step three helps you define what, if anything, stands in the way of the goal. Even so, unexpected hurdles may arise. Face these obstacles head-on, using the four lenses to guide you toward a new understanding.
6. Clearly define resources and/or project scope. Even the most well-intentioned goal won’t be met if there aren’t resources available to support it. Be upfront about what’s needed. Good communication will help keep you on track and prevent project creep.
7. Tweak outcomes as constraints become visible. Taking new actions can be iterative. Try something and test it to see if it feels authentic. If it works, then use it and continue to monitor and tweak.
8. Support managers as they hold their own staff accountable. Your job also entails developing the managers’ abilities to assess their own staffs’ progress and skill sets. Remember, as a macromanager, you are role-modeling the need for monitoring, so be explicit. You build scalability and sustainability in organizations by building strong leaders and teams.
Once Walter started macromanaging, he was able to keep his team moving forward on its objectives, while simultaneously nurturing an atmosphere of renewed optimism and success. Within a few weeks, the technology group’s performance improved.
Macromanagement can work for you, too. Start using the eight steps outlined above and you’ll find that it is possible to give managers the independence they crave, even as you keep them focused and accountable.
Janet Britcher is president of Transformation Management, LLC and author of Zoom Leadership: Change Your Focus, Change Your Insight.
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