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There are quite a few questions here on how to deal with a boss who is a micromanager, but I did not see any asked by managers on how to not be one.

A friend of mine has several direct reports. None of them have the reputation to reliably produce quality work. He told me that he is concerned that he is turning into a micromanager.

The basic issue is lack of trust: because he has not seen high quality on-time work from the in the past, he anticipates he won't get it unless he breathes down their necks.

The upshot is he is able to ensure higher quality of work, mostly because he reviews their output and 'cleans it up' or tells them to re-do if he spots problems.

The downside is he feels these relationships eroding.

On one hand would be fine if all of them quit yesterday and he could replace them - also a gamble, but one he is willing to take.

On the other hand he does not want to become "that guy", with a reputation for being an ***hole to be avoided at all costs. He wants to be a good manager, one who gets good work from his team but does not do it at the expense of everyone's morale, health, and sanity.

How to achieve high performance without micromanaging? How to promote a culture of independent productivity with quality output? How to end up with a largely autonomous team that pretty much runs itself, "just add water"?

How to avoid becoming a micromanager?

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    I would suggest never cleaning up the output but always returning it to be fixed. The employees will not get better if you fix their mistakes. – HLGEM Jul 21 '17 at 20:41
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    From personal experience I can tell you that vague and poorly defined specifications heavily impact on the output. It's possible that your friend is the problem, if he's not clearly explaining what needs to be done, his subordinates may be delivering exactly what was specified, and he returns it to be modified because he left out information or didn't explain properly. – Dom Jul 21 '17 at 22:54
  • @Dom Possibly. Could you take this one step further and recommend how to communicate requirements more clearly, without making the specs so narrow that he would come across as controlling, e.g. micromanaging (e.g. "output should look EXACTLY like this: X, Y, Z" - doesn't leave too much room for autonomy, does it?) Following Richard U.'s advice, the focus is on the what, not the how, but still this seems like risking coming across as too anal? Maybe there is some art to how to get what you want without overspecifying, i.e. giving requirements for what the product should achieve, not look like? – A.S Jul 21 '17 at 23:05
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    @A.O My bad experience entails being drip-fed several tasks a day, each time requiring a verbal briefing due to almost non-existent specs, and then having them returned after review to be modified due to info that was left out, whilst never being asked to exercise my own skills in designing or organising the work, nor being informed of the bigger picture, or even the medium sized picture. – Dom Jul 21 '17 at 23:44
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The difference between a manager who keeps the pressure up (as it sounds like your friend is) and a micromanager is that a micromanager manages the minutia.

"I need this by this time", and holding staff accountable is not micromanaging.

"Do it now, and do it this way". is micromanaging.

For your friend to avoid any traps, simply have a five minute check in with the staff 3 times per day. Once in the morning to lay out tasks, once midday to check on status, again at the end of the day to see what was done and what was not.

If anyone is not meeting their goals, THEN additional visits would be warranted.

ALSO, when people start to come into compliance and the trust level increases, your friend should make a very big deal of it. Positive reinforcement is a great way to get people on track, especially since it's a rare thing at work.

Finally, he has to step back and allow a few balls to drop or he will end up being the one to do the work. It's hard, but sometimes you need to let people fail, and address the consequences.

So, to recap.

  • Scheduled check-ins
  • Manage the "When" and "what", not the how
  • follow up with stragglers
  • Reward success
  • Take a step back.

Edited to add:

I've used these methods and they work.

To clarify on the check-ins. They do not need to be long, and after a fashion, if everything starts to run smoothly, you can reduce the frequency. But to get the team running smoothly, you should start with 3 per day.

The morning check-in should be "This is what needs to be done". The mid-day should just be a quick "Any problems/obstacles I can help you with?" The end of day should be "How did we do".

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    3 times a day seems excessive to me – user29055 Jul 21 '17 at 19:58
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    @Midas Why? First in the morning to set expectations, once midday to follow up, and again at the end of the day to verify. total of maybe 15 minutes a day. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Jul 21 '17 at 20:00
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    @RichardU Thank you for useful suggestions. I am interested in other perspectives, but this is a great set of guidelines. On the 3 meetings, I am also on a fence, especially b/c the morning check-in might end up being a duplicate of previous EOD meeting (since there may not be time to make progress in between). Also if some tasks take additional time, there might be a risk of restating the obvious "still at it". I can see this practice getting old and going South real fast with a subordinate with low tolerance for micromanagement. HOWEVER, in this case this may be required to get results... – A.S Jul 21 '17 at 20:34
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    @RichardU: yes I also think 3 is excessive. Unless we are talking about really trivial tasks asking the status a couple of hours later (because what is the midway if you take into account meetings, launch etc) is counter productive and annoying. I would say one in the morning and one before leaving if there are any blockers or problems. – smith Jul 21 '17 at 20:57
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    I worked on a project with a team that was trusted to get their work done well, and they did three check-in meetings a day with the exact purposes you outlined. The project was crazy complex and had a strict timeline, so it prevented people from getting blocked or missing input they needed. (They were updating each other more than they were the managers.) It seemed to work well for them, so I believe it's also a reasonable solution here. If it's feasible, it might help perception to make the focus of the meetings more about collaborating than reporting in. Peer pressure can work wonders. – Kat Jul 22 '17 at 20:09

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