How NOT to Micromanage

I am regularly asked what can leaders do to stay on top of work assignments, yet NOT be guilty of micromanagement. I offer a couple of suggestions (please read and share with others!).

One, stop telling people HOW to do things! Get out of the weeds. Instead, use intent. Spend time carefully crafting your intent (essentially the what and why, also known as task & purpose) and share it regularly with your team. Let them determine the HOW. Then, before they start execution, have them share the HOW with you. This allows you to confirm they will get to the desired destination (i.e. achieve your intent) while empowering them to think for themselves and solve their own problems.

Let me offer a few things to help understand this concept. One, click here to see the article on how GE ran circles around their competitors in their high-end refrigerator line. Note especially the very clear use of intent in the 4th paragraph from the GE Appliances CEO. The rest is left to the team to make it happen. They won’t disappoint! Secondly, here is a blog on“intent” with a great military example on the importance of the leader’s role in providing intent for the team:

“Imagine your instructions are to storm a building, clear it of hostiles, then go secure the roof to make sure that it’s all safe. You storm the building and then head up to the roof. But, you have no cover. You’re fully exposed to any of the baddies that may be lurking around. But you follow orders and put your team in danger.

Now imagine the same scenario, but add the intent of the commander. You are told to set up on the roof so you can watch the north road to ensure that no one comes in on it. Knowing this and then seeing the roof with zero cover, you can make the decision to head down one floor to a room with the windows facing north. From this room you can watch the road (achieve the intent of the order) and keep your team out of obvious sight from everyone in the area.”

Some great examples on the importance of intent. Your team must hear and understand your intent very clearly, allowing them to make their own decisions and think for themselves, all based on their understanding of what exactly you expect from them. Clearly defining Purpose, End State, and any Key Tasks (the 3 elements of intent) will help give people enough clarity on the outcome, while still being broad enough guidance to allow them to figure things out on their own.

It is a simple concept but when you see the value, you can understand why this is such a powerful tool:

1. Buy-in / Ownership. Let’s face it, when you provide the exact solution, you own it. People give the bare minimum. When it is their solution, they won’t stop until it is successful. The pride and esteem that comes from seeing one’s ideas become real are immeasurable.

2. Learning. Rather than forcing the leader to do all the thinking, this approach engages the full brain capacity of the entire team. As people figure things out on their own, consistent with the leader’s intent, they learn, they grow, and they prepare themselves for problem-solving at increasingly higher levels.

3. Initiative. Know that when leaders offer up their solutions (i.e. they provide the HOW), that IS the only solution that will ever come to the surface. If instead, leaders offer intent and allow people to think on their own, the ideas never stop flowing. Some may struggle (and learn along the way). Others may very well revolutionize your business. As with the GE example, organizations and leaders who incorporate this practice are setting the market for others, leading the way with new ideas, products, services, and initiatives that truly are game-changers.

4. Time. When leaders dictate the HOW, they will find a long line outside their office every time the conditions change. When leaders provide INTENT, and people determine their own solutions, the line shortens and leaders can instead focus on what they SHOULD be doing (higher level thinking, coaching and staff development, etc.).

Win/win, right? This is how senior leaders communicate. They provide intent, confirm understanding, then monitor execution, focusing on the outcome – namely do people / teams achieve the intent?

If you are down in the weeds, try this approach. Use intent and help unlock the full capability of your high performance team. Let your people think for themselves, solve their own problems, meet your expectations. Provide clarity on intent and set your people free. That’s…Leader Business!

P.S. You should know that helping leaders understand intent…and many other concepts…are covered in our “Leadership Excellence Course” or leadership “Boot Camp.” Maybe it is time for you, or your team members, to put a few tools like this in their leader tool box. I’d like to help. You can see information on this intense 3-day program -- HERE.


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