#11 Micro-Management or Bust!

by Steven Cerri on October 16, 2006

Managing for results AND empowerment

Good evening!

It seems lately that everywhere I turn, much of what I read about management and leadership keeps pointing to the same set of management deficiencies. It may be the major issue of managers and leaders; not just technical managers and leaders, but all managers and leaders. And quite simply it’s the inability of managers to manage so as to achieve results. Do any of the following three scenarios ring true for you?

1. You are a new manager. You have been given responsibility for a project and you have also been given three direct reports. The direct reports are all technically competent people. They have been out of school for several years and have been accomplished individual contributors. You sit down with them, discuss the tasks they will each be doing and you then send them on their way to accomplish their tasks. At the end of their respective task schedules, none of them has completed their tasks as they said they would, either on time or to the level of detail they and you anticipated. What has gone wrong and what should you have done?

2. You have a disruptive direct report. This direct report is constantly challenging your authority when they are alone with you. When you and they are in a team meeting, the direct report seems cooperative. But when you are not there, this direct report tends to undermine you in front of other people. This direct report doesn’t seem to feel the sense of commitment regarding getting tasks done on time that you do. Missing a schedule is just not that big a deal.

3. You give a task to a direct report. This direct report has a mixed track record. The direct report sometimes completes tasks on schedule. Other times they miss their schedule. You don’t want to be known as a “micro-manager” but you are uncertain if the person will complete their task if you give them an independent hand. But you choose to give the person a good deal of independence anyway. The project slips and the direct report has an excuse for the inability to complete the task on time. After several attempts to give this person an independent hand you decide to step in and manage them closely so the task can get done. What went wrong? What should you do differently next time, if anything?

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar? Do you have direct reports who behave like this? Should you manage closely or manage loosely? Should you ignore how people want to be managed and just manage to get the task completed?

Over the last several months, much of what I’ve read in business and technology magazines, and much of what I’ve heard from my clients, points to this one issue; how does a technology manager manage to get results and build a sense of empowerment and independence in employees at the same time? Or should a manager even try to accomplish these seemingly competing outcomes?


In order to answer these questions I first want to establish some common ground. And the first area of common ground is this: I want us to agree that the only tool a manager has is communication. It doesn’t matter if you have hire and fire authority of if you don’t; you still only have your ability to communicate as your tool of influence. Threatening an employee with termination if they don’t get the job done is still just a means of communication. A means called “intimidation”. So let’s agree that as a manager your most powerful and only tool is communication.

If it is true that communication is your only tool, then the next question is “How do you use communication to manage for results without making an employee feel that you do not trust them, that you don’t want them to make decisions; basically how do you manage and yet make an employee feel that they are empowered to make certain decisions on their own?

These will be the questions I’ll address in the next couple of blogs and I’ll use the three examples I presented at the beginning of this blog as examples.

See you Thursday.

Be well

Steven Cerri

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