Why the "Hands Off" Approach Doesn't Work

Most leaders and executives know that micromanagement can be damaging to self-sustainable progress in their employees and teams. We even know that most people operate best when they have some sort of autonomy in decision-making and work styles. But many executives, when they try to avoid micromanaging, tend to pull back too far; they slide to the “hands off” end of the spectrum. Unfortunately, this can be just as damaging.

Employees Still Want Help

Consider how you felt when you first started out - whether in your executive role or an entry level position. Did you know what you were doing? Did you thrive under proper instruction and leadership? Studies find that the more involved upper management is, the better that leaders and “self-starters” can cultivate the confidence they need to fully succeed.

In one very telling study, the people at Zenger Folkman found that 74% of polled employees said that they actually got better at their jobs when a superior was involved in their training and development. Another study in Canadian firms found that quality leadership involvement was more effective than increased pay incentives in improving company output and employee satisfaction.

Based on these recent survey findings, it seems that these executives and leaders have managed to find that “sweet spot” when it comes to their involvement in the day-to-day operations. But how did they find that balance?

The Statistical Sweet Spot

Most studies indicate that training and development plays a key role in setting up the “balanced” management that increases satisfaction and productivity. But training and development is not a consistent, devoted activity in most companies.

However, many studies highlight a few key daily and weekly opportunities that help employees grow:

1. One-on-One Communication. Many executives find that individual meetings with key employees help to outline clear expectations, as well as provide a platform to address questions. As opposed to a group setting where details are glossed over, one-on-one meetings make sure that everything is crystal clear. While it adds a few more minutes to executive involvement, the end result provides better returns.

2. Observe and Critique. The best executives know that “on the job” monitoring is a great way to provide the most relevant feedback. Seeing how an employee does a certain task, interacts with customers, or even solves a problem can give insights. Then, the feedback those employees get is highly tailored and can help them improve their performance dramatically.

3. Consistent Performance Reviews. While there’s a place for group check-ins and overall evaluation of output, individually assessing employees is a great way to provide hands-on involvement. Objectively assessing output or productivity, as well as ideas or new projects the employee has been involved in, is a great way to stay involved. Employees respond well to leaders and executives who stay attuned to their workload.

Involved but not Encroaching

Being an executive means that you are good at delegating, at managing, and at seeing how well your systems are working. To be involved with your employees or your team doesn’t mean that you’re bothering them to see what progress they’ve made every day; it means that you’re checking in deliberately and giving them some autonomy.

After all, you want to make sure people are succeeding, but you don’t want to put out fires all day long, either. Finding the balance between “hands off” and micromanagement will be one of the most important steps you take towards being a successful leader. It starts with taking an involved interest in what your employees are doing without trying to take over.