Micromanagement is not the answer - PwC

Software programmes that track keyboard activity, websites visited, monitor the speed warehouse workers pick and pack items—all send an unmistakable signal from leaders to their employees of distrust. It is micromanagement—and, like its face-to-face cousin, it is the embodiment of bad leadership and is certain to disengage even the most loyal workers.

The reason micromanagement is so detrimental to worker happiness and productivity can be explained in part through self-determination theory: to feel motivated, people have to fulfil three core needs: competence, autonomy, and relatedness (or being part of a team). Micromanagement cuts against all three of these. Shadowing every move suggests a lack of faith in their ability to do their job. It diminishes their autonomy. It destroys relatedness by forcing people to only focus on task completion, treating them as if they are machines.


Neuroscience also reveals why micromanaging is counterproductive: the two most fundamental needs of the human brain are security and autonomy, both of which are built on trust. Leaders who instill a sense of trust in their employees foster that sense of security and autonomy and, in turn, loyalty. When leaders micromanage their employees, they undermine that sense of trust, which tends to breed evasion behaviours. It’s a natural brain response. Micromanagement constantly triggers the short-term, survival thinking, flight-fight-freeze response not long-term thinking which considers consequences and relationships—so it is detrimental to both social interactions and task completion


Micromanaging gives a manager an illusion of control. The mass of data collected observing inputs does not track enthusiasm, commitment, or the satisfaction of either workers or customers. Employees focus on evading punishment rather than seeking reward. So why do managers do it? In my experience, micromanaging derives from three predictable causes: managers who do not know how to actually manage people,; and workers insufficiently trained or resourced to do their jobs well; and a reliance on metrics that fail to measure what matters.

So there are three antidotes:

  • Education about how humans achieve peak performance, make decisions, and work together. Both psychology and neuroscience have masses of evidence on the development of individuals and teams, how to foster psychological safety, how the brain responds to different stimuli, and how treating people as fully capable adults yields significant dividends.

  • Build soft skills. It doesn’t come naturally to everyone, so the adage that ’the soft skills are the hard ones’ is often proved to be true. Your colleagues can provide some answers: Ask how can I make it easier for you to succeed? How do you think we can do better? What makes a day at work “great” for you? These are insights into their motivation so that you can provide the right environment.

  • Clarity around the mission as well as the metrics will remind employees why what they do is important and how it’s improving people’s lives. There’s no better way to ensure that people are doing the right thing when no one is looking than to connect them deeply to the mission.

Employees add the greatest value through coordination, collaboration, and creativity—not by completing mechanistic tasks. Management is about creating the conditions in which individuals thrive, by fostering communities of workers who connect with, support, and challenge each other. And in the current world, employees will look for these conditions in other organisations if you don’t provide them.

To survive the “great resignation” and succeed beyond it, leaders need to speed their own evolution. Doing so calls for their own great reassessment, so they can create organisations that attract and retain people who, like my mom, are ready to achieve great things if only their managers will trust them to do it.


To read the complete article from PwC, please click here.

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