By Bob Nelson

Want to drive high-potential employees crazy? Micromanage them. Micromanagement is a severe management style that undermines employee initiative, crushing the spirit of employees wanting to do a good job. If you constantly find yourself in situations where you are giving your employees details on how to do obvious tasks and then checking on them constantly to see whether the tasks are done properly, you might be a micromanager.

Fortunately, whether you are an employee or a manager, you can learn new approaches and skills for being more effective in your working relationship. For the employee, this means finding ways to assure your manager he can count on you to do what he asked you to do and following through with those strategies. For the manager, it means being clear about communicating your expectations and then giving employees a chance to live up to those expectations. The patience you show can serve you both in the relationship.

Ranked as one of the top motivators for employees in their jobs today is autonomy and authority, that is, having a say in how they do their work and the ability, power, and support to do what is necessary to get the job done. In my research, employees ranked the following items as very or extremely important: being allowed to decide how best to do one’s work (89 percent), being given increased job autonomy (87 percent), and being given increased authority in the job (85 percent).

Autonomy and authority create the foundation of trust and respect that today’s high-potential employees (HIPOs) so highly value. It provides them a sense of independence and a freedom to bring their own imprint to their work. This freedom is important for fostering employee creativity, resourcefulness, and best efforts, which in turn leads to higher performance and increased employee satisfaction and fulfillment. With autonomy and authority, employees feel more confident in taking initiative with their work and more competent that the initiative they take will pay off, leading to better results and an enhanced ability to take on greater assignments and responsibilities.

If you’re an employee of a micromanager

No one likes to work for a micromanager, although it’s reported that four out of five workers say they have done just that — and one out of three workers has even changed jobs because of it. To tap into the wellspring of potential every employee has to offer, you need to give them more room and encourage them to take responsibility — and recognize them when they do.

If you currently work for a micromanager, take a look at why this might be happening. Realize that if you are having a problem with your manager, it’s inevitable that your manager is having a problem with you. People tend to be quick to blame others for their problems and discount the fact that others are often responding to them and their behavior, often in very logical ways. Here are some ways you can set yourself up to win when working for a micromanager:

  • Take responsibility for your relationship with your manager. Make the first move and be willing to go 90 percent of the way to meet your manager in the middle. After all, you have more to lose from a poor relationship with your manager than he or she does. Take a step back and look at your situation from your manager’s perspective. Chances are that your manager micromanages you because he doesn’t trust you based on past experiences working with you. Perhaps you have entirely different values of professionalism, for example, so your acceptable standards for work, timing, and thoroughness are not the same. In this case, it’s up to you to bring your standards up to his or her level.

  • Look for common ground and overlap. Even if you and your manager are opposites, there should be an area where you can find common agreement. Start by asking some questions: “What would give you the sense that I’m dedicated to doing this task right?” “What time frame would you like this completed?” “Do you want a progress report or just the final completed task?” “You’ve told me how you’d handle this assignment, but if I can get the same or better results doing it a different way, would that be okay?”

    Use the answers to these questions to set up some rules for working together. You might find, for example, that your frequent typos make your manager feel you don’t proofread your work, and her real concern is getting a chance to review correspondence before you send it out. In this instance, showing your manager you can eliminate typos in your correspondence would help build trust between the two of you. By taking your manager’s concerns seriously and acting upon those concerns, you are showing you value and respect your manager and your relationship with him or her.

  • Find a new way of working together. Come up with some new rules for working together without your manager feeling undue risk. Be creative in finding methods in getting your manager to see things differently. For example, some of the administrative support people who have been the best in working for me over the years were the ones that had the clearest idea of what their job was and were not afraid to stand up for their work or themselves in the process.

If you’re a micromanager

If you are the micromanager, realize that, by constantly trying to prove that you’re the smartest one in the room, you will systematically shut down those who work for you and subsequently drive them away. You have to give your people a chance to find their own ways for getting things done — to allow them the ability to build and learn from their own experiences. Discuss and brainstorm strategies and support them in the execution of their plans, but don’t take over their work or assignments. When you do, you demean them and yourself in the process.