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Macromanagement is Just as Bad as Micromanagement

Macromanagement is Just as Bad as Micromanagement

Free Resource

In the world of business and management, dealing with micromanagement is a frequently discussed and dissected topic. Everyone knows it’s bad. In attempting to curb micromanaging tendencies, or avoid it all together, sometimes a manager can too readily jump to the opposite end of the spectrum. But when a manager becomes so hands off that they’re out of touch with the work at hand and stops helping their direct reports, the consequences of macromanagement can be unexpectedly severe.

At first, having a macromanager leading your team can feel like having the perfect boss. No hovering, minimal accountability, open-ended instructions — what’s not to love? We rarely hear about macromanagers because employees don’t want to spoil a cushy situation. While the impulse to macromanage often comes from wanting to give employees greater initiative and freedom, macromanagement is detrimental to companies and employees in the long run. Without structured leadership, employees may struggle to develop new skills, find themselves stuck in a place where they are no longer learning, and ineffectively collaborate and tackle projects.

This article will cover how to know if you’re too hands-off, and what to do to correct it without swinging across the spectrum toward micromanagement.

What are the signs of macromanagers?

In an interview on the Harvard Business Review Ideacast, Tanya Menon (co-author of Stop Spending, Start Managing) points out a few telltale signs of recognizing a macromanager. The most obvious sign, she says, is “when you think you’ve been clear in terms of communicating what you want out of that group…and they come up with a completely different product than what you expected.” Two of the other most noticeable signs? Conflict, and direct reports who don’t understand their roles. All of these signs point to poor communication and lack of clarity surrounding objectives.

Success is often at more risk under a macromanager than a micromanager. Take the first sign: your direct reports produce work vastly different from what you thought you told them. While a micromanager would hover and exert too much control over each stage of the project, a macromanager is more likely to provide non-specific instructions and then take a step back to give employees autonomy.  But with this approach, things get lost along the way. A macromanager is usually unavailable to answer questions or give guidance along the project timeline, which leads to unwanted results.

If you start to notice that projects aren’t completed as you envisioned, take a step back to reflect. Do your direct reports understand who is responsible for what part of the project, and how the other team members contribute to the end result? If not, the likelihood of a successful project goes way down. Uncertainty and confusion around roles and desired results is incredibly detrimental and inevitably leads to conflict.

Being too hands-off can leave a manager out of touch with their employees. An employee could leave, and you wouldn’t even see it coming! Without some level of active involvement, it’s impossible to stay on the same page and know when and where to provide support.

How do you stop macromanaging, without swinging the other way?

Taking a macromanagement approach doesn't have to end poorly. An effective macromanager does the following:

Establishes basic ground rules:These don’t need to be overarching or complex. Instead, set out to establish a basic foundation of understanding for your team to operate on.
Focuses on frameworks and processes, but not necessarily the production: Make sure your direct reports understand what they are responsible for and what their support resources are. Present a clear idea of what that final deliverable should look like, and pinpoint essential benchmarks and deadlines along the way. Then, you can trust your employee to take their own path toward a mutually agreed upon goal.
Optimizes one-on-ones:It’s important to develop a cadence of one-on-ones, so you’re not constantly looking over your employees’ shoulders, but you’re also not leaving them to fend for themselves. Scheduling one-on-ones gives you a structured opportunity to get regular updates on what’s going on and provide feedback, while giving direct reports a chance to ask for help.

How do you provide guidance without getting in the way?  

There’s near-endless rhetoric and thought leadership about putting your talent on tough problems and getting out of the way. Tanya Menon summarizes this management tactic as, assuming that once you’ve hired the right people, you can sit back, relax, and “let the magic happen.” But it’s important to remember that there’s a difference between getting in the way and providing beneficial guidance.Many companies “reward” their top talent by dumping them onto failing teams and projects, and without managerial guidance and support, top performers can get burned out or quit.

Should you give your talent ownership of a project and trust them to solve problems? Yes, absolutely. But it’s also a manager’s responsibility to provide the support that empowers employees to do their best. Even if you want to loosen your control, you always need clear objectives, KPIs, and other measures of success to keep everyone on the right track. And just because someone is talented doesn’t mean their work will innately align with the company’s needs. This is where managers are essential: to rein in the overly zealous designer or the grey-hat marketer, who might hurt your brand without proper guidance.

Macromanagement can be just as bad as micromanagement, and some would argue even worse. Although employees are more likely to stay put under a macromanager — rather than quit under the over-controlling micromanager — the traps of macromanagement still lead to less productivity throughout the company. If you suspect you might be a macromanager, get feedback from your direct reports and your higher-ups to gain a better sense of where you stand. It’s important to focus on the company’s strategy and vision, but you should always be in the know of where a project is at in its timeline and how everyone on your team is doing.