9 Ways to Shift From Micromanagement to Accountability

9 Ways to Shift From Micromanagement to Accountability

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I’ve had the privilege of working with leaders at every organizational level in many different industries and company sizes. I’ve noticed that most leaders avoid accountability because they have a negative perception of it. This negative perception is completely misplaced. 

Accountability is your leadership silver bullet. It will help you increase employee engagement, productivity and morale. When done right, increasing accountability inspires everyone on your team to bring their best selves to work every day

So if accountability is so great, why aren't more leaders using it? Great question, glad you asked.

There’s a fine line between accountability and micromanagement. In theory, both concepts are meant to ensure that employees meet the standards set for them. The difference boils down to trust.

Accountability vs. Micromanagement

The two concepts are often confused, but there is a clear distinction between them.

Let's talk about micromanagement. Micromanagement in the workplace can sound like, ‘I don't trust you to get the job done,’ or ‘I don't think that you can do it without my instruction.’ When you really stop trusting your people to get things done, that's when you're into micromanagement mode.

Maybe they've missed deadlines in the past, or there are other issues in the office, those are some examples. 

Micromanagement stifles creativity and growth, while also breeding discontent in the workplace. When managers micromanage their employees, it can have a number of negative consequences.

For one, it can stifle creativity and growth, as employees are too worried about making mistakes to take risks, while also feeling like their manager doesn't trust them to do their job properly. 

Additionally, micromanagement can be costly, as it can lead to inefficiency and wasted resources. Micromanaging can be counterproductive and can lead to a toxic work environment. Furthermore, you become the bottleneck and you limit the creativity and productivity of your team. 

If you thought micromanaging was something that only happens when you're in the same office, you would be mistaken. Working from home or remote working didn't eradicate micromanaging it may have actually accelerated it.  

It's easy for trust to erode and to start doubting your employees if they miss deadlines or their work product isn't close to what we expected. So now you feel as though we have to micromanage in order to make sure we get exactly what you want.

If you need to handle missed deadlines constructively, you might want to read 4 Good Ways and 1 Really Terrible Way to Deal with Missed Expectations.

But there is another way.

Hint: if you are feeling overworked and like you are leading a team of idiots who can't do anything right, you might be micromanaging your team. Don't worry you're not alone. Check out this post on 5 leadership mistakes to avoid.

Ultimately, you should avoid micromanaging their employees whenever possible, as it can have several negative consequences for both the individual and the organization. That's where accountability comes in. 

Accountability is the opposite end of the spectrum. Accountability says, ‘I trust you, but I'm going to have to verify' My clients tell me that once they started having 15 minute meetings to verify and clarify their goals, they're like, “Okay, David, this is incredible. It wasn't just a good thing for that person, it was a good first thing for both of us, because now we’re on the same page.” 

Accountability is a key ingredient in any healthy workplace. It helps to ensure that employees are aware of what is expected of them and why.

Accountability involves setting expectations and ensuring that employees understand the why, the what, the and the when, and trusting the how to them. You trust your employees to do good work, but you verify that they are. Spoiler: this is where good accountability gets a bad name. More on this later. 

In practice, the line between accountability and micromanagement can be blurry. This is the spoiler I mentioned earlier. When you increase accountability you will be called a micromanager. Because many people (including people on your team) don't know the difference between micromanagement and accountability.

If, for instance, you've been a more "hands-off" leader, asking for more details and proof that progress is being made may feel intrusive and micromanagy to some of your employees.

Most people think they're being micromanaged, and I would have to agree that many of them are because every leader is not awesome just yet. And that’s okay. Everybody's on a continuum, everyone's moving to be better. (Which is why you’re here!) 

How do I hold people accountable without them feeling like I’m micromanaging?

The key to holding people accountable without micromanaging is to set clear expectations and goals for them, create a schedule for following up and provide powerful feedback on their performance.

You should also give them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. If they know what is expected of them, and they know that you are monitoring their performance, they will be more likely to meet your expectations. 

Moving from micromanagement to accountability

Below are proven tips to help you make the move from micromanaging to leading with accountability.

1. Delegate well

Delegating work is the first step in moving from micromanagement to accountability. Delegating isn't just assigning tasks. It's assigning the task and trusting your coworker to arrive at the solution in their own way.

Provide the why, what, when and trust them with the how. This is where you have to get out of your own way and focus on the outcome, not the process. Allowing your employees to do things in a way that makes sense to them will increase their ownership in the outcomes. 

2. Communicate clearly 

Schedule one-on-one follow up meetings to ensure progress is being made and that they are still working on the correct outcomes. Trust your employee and clearly state your expectations. If things seem to be slipping, ask questions when there is time to make corrections.

Be available to provide support and guidance when needed but give them the space and motivation they need to succeed. 

3. Set realistic deadlines

Without a timeline or a deadline nothing will happen. It's important to establish a deadline for the project or task to be finished. Having a timeline will help your employees stay on track, manage their time and stay motivated.

It is important to be realistic when creating your timeline, and to make sure that all the steps necessary for completing the project are accounted for. 

4. Abandon your perfectionism 

As a recovering perfectionist, I can tell you, you have let go of your perfectionism. This means acknowledging that your team won't always deliver perfect projects and that you won't always have control over every outcome.

You must learn to be flexible and to roll with the punches. This is how you will create a culture of innovation and resilience within your team. It's also how you will learn to take risks and to embrace failure. 

5. Prioritize what’s important  

Everyone should understand the team or project priorities. It's the leader's job to communicate them and keep them top of mind. Prioritize the most important tasks and communicate with your team so everyone is on the same page. Have a plan but be flexible and adapt as needed.

6. Take a Step Back 

It can be tough to step away from a project you're passionate about and let someone else take the lead, but it's important to remember that not every decision needs your input. When you're constantly checking in on your team's work, it can disrupt their flow and slow them down.

If you're not sure whether to step back, ask yourself if the task at hand something is you could do yourself. If it is, let your team handle it - they're capable of completing the task without your help. Stepping back to allow your team members to work independently will not only give them room to grow, but it will also show that you trust them. 

7. Check in 

By checking in periodically with your team, you can ensure that the project is on track. This also allows you to troubleshoot any potential problems early on. By communicating with your team, you're also building trust and developing better working relationships. The end result is a more successful project. 

8. Provide powerful feedback 

Giving feedback is an essential part of any team's success, but it's important to know when and how to give it. Feedback should be specific, timely, and relevant. It should also be framed in a way that's motivational and helps the person receiving it understand how to improve. Feedback doesn't always have to be developmental, it can be for doing a great job as well.

Here's a quick tip on giving employees feedback: target one or two specific issues at a time. If there is more than that, deal with the most pressing issues. Make sure your feedback is relevant to the task at hand. 

9. Trust Your Employees 

As tempting as it may be to try to do everything yourself, this is oftentimes counterproductive, as it will take you longer to complete the project than if you had delegated some of the work. 

Additionally, your employees may feel less valued and appreciated if they are not given the opportunity to contribute to the project and their skill development is stunted.

Trusting your employees will allow you to focus on the more important aspects of the project, and it will also show your employees that you trust them and value their contributions.

Employees want to feel like they are a part of the company and that their work is important. Micromanaging can interfere with this and make them feel like they are not trusted. Additionally, it can be time-consuming and frustrating for the manager to micromanage.

It is better to give employees specific instructions and then let them work on their own. This will help them feel more autonomous and invested in their work. 

Let me know your thoughts below.

About the author 

Dr. David Arrington

David a husband, father and the principal of Arrington Coaching. He and his team work with leaders, teams, organizations, and entrepreneurs. He regularly speaks and writes on leadership development, team alignment, and peak performance.

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