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Do You Really Need to Tell Your Employees What to Do?

by Hal Levenson on Jun 12, 2013 6:07:12 AM

Where is the line between management and micro-management?

Where is the line between stifling employees and supervising them?

Do you trust your employees to do the job for which you hired them, or don’t you?

If not, why did you hire them?

Which management style actually results in the greatest employee productivity?

How important is employee happiness?

Questions arise repeatedly about employees and management when our team works with clients, peers, and “business experts.” Most business owners and leaders believe three things about their employees:

  • Engaged employees are more loyal and more productive
  • Happy employees are more productive
  • Few people like to be micro-managed

Unfortunately, however, there is no consensus about how to make employees “engaged employees” or what makes employees happy.

It should not be surprising, then, to know that discussions about employee happiness, engagement, and productivity, as well as management styles occur somewhere almost daily. The conversation is also occurring in the media and on social media platforms. One of the touch points of the discussion is an article published on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network on April 26, 2013 by Jordan Cohen. In this article, Cohen points to the work of Amy Arnsten, a neuroscience professor at Yale University. Arnsten’s studies found that “when people lose their sense of control, such as when tasks are dictated to them, the brain’s emotional response center can actually cause a decrease in cognitive functioning.” Whether real or imagined, perceived loss of control is presumed to cause a drop in productivity.

Clearly, there are times in some organizations when it is mission critical that certain specific tasks be performed in the same way and at the same rate of speed repeatedly. A good example is an assembly line. In other types of work, however, people want and need a modicum of control over their work.

Micro managing is still alive and well in many firms. One reason for its persistence might be that the individuals currently using this management style are replicating what they experienced before promotion to a supervisory or management position. If they have only one model to emulate, micro managing will persist, until they are taught a better way to manage and given plausible reasons for learning a new approach.

What should be at the center of the new approach? The foundation of the approach might be the recognition that your employees do not like someone telling them what to do every minute of the day, any more than you would like it. The center of the new approach, then, needs to be in giving the employee the feeling of being in control. Instead of telling the employee precisely what to do, managers have a better chance of achieving the desired outcome if they describe the outcome they want to the employee. Then, the manager should step back and allow the employee to decide how to arrive at the desired outcome, relying upon his/her sense of control, thought processes and problem solving skills.

The scientific findings – and much practical experience – support the claim that when allowed a sense of control employees will be more productive and will produce work of a higher quality. As a result, these employees

  • will have pride in their work
  • will be engaged with the success of the firm
  • will be loyal
  • will feel encouraged to share ideas that increase productivity for the company

The consensus in the media today seems to be that business leaders should hire people for their ability to do their job. If that is true, they should trust those employees to do the job and maintain a sense of control. Describing in sufficient detail the desired outcome of an employee’s work and providing the tools necessary should be the primary function of the manager, and not watching over their shoulder.

What management styles are operative in your firm? Do you have micro managers who are undermining employee productivity and job satisfaction?

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