my employees are making mistakes, but I don’t want to micromanage

A reader writes:

I have two direct reports with two very different working styles.

One is more independent and usually runs with the project — she asks me for help or advice if something comes up. When she shares various projects with me, there are usually a couple of minor items that need correcting, which I share with her for next time. The next time she shows me a project, I see the same items that need correcting. I started to wonder if it was my communication style, so I also shared the corrections via email so it’s in writing. But the same thing happens again, regardless if I talked to her about it or wrote it down.

My second direct report needs a little more hand holding so there is constant communication. There are two extremes to his working style — he either gets wrapped up in the details and forgets the project objective so I need to bring him back on track or he rushes to finish the project, but neglects the details so there are multiple revisions and drafts. As with my other employee, I have communicated the project details and objectives verbally and also through email so he can refer to his notes, but I find him making the same errors or not paying attention to the details when we work on the next project.

One of the things I have wanted to avoid since becoming a manager was to not micromanage my staff. I understand there needs to be some micromanaging to make sure the team is on track with company goals and to make sure their priorities are clearly understood so they don’t waste their day working on unnecessary items.

Without becoming an uber micromanager, how can I communicate to my two reports that they need to pay attention to the details because the same mistakes are constantly being made and it is noticed not only by me, but the clients if they don’t show me the drafts?

I do not know if they are not listening to me or they are working too fast and forget. When I share my thoughts and offer suggestions I try to explain the reasoning so they both know, it’s not because “I told you so!” but actually the reason why we “use this terminology” or why we “decided to go with this format,” etc. I’m at the point where I really want to say (but never will), “This has happened multiple times and it shows that you are not listening to me — you need to start showing me every project you are working on because I no longer can depend that you are learning from past mistakes and putting effort into your work.”

It sounds like you’re so focused on not wanting to be a micromanager that you’re missing the fact that your employees have legitimate performance issues that you should be addressing.

It is not micromanaging to clearly explain what a work product or outcome should look like, or to ask that work be done correctly, or to expect people to incorporate your feedback into their work in the future. That’s managing.

And there are times when a good manager should manage more closely than that as well, such as when an employee isn’t moving work forward, or it’s not being done well, or results are disappointing. Of course, if your close involvement is needed for a long stretch, it might be a sign that you don’t have the right person in the job and you’ll need to address that — but the answer meanwhile isn’t to stay hands-off if the work isn’t being done correctly.

So it sounds like it’s time to have a conversation with each of these two employees about the pattern you’re seeing. This is the step that managers often miss when they have concerns about someone’s work — they continue addressing each instance of the problem, and they get increasingly frustrated and concerned about the pattern, but they don’t sit down with the person and say, “Hey, we have a pattern here.” They assume the person sees the pattern as clearly as they do, but they never spell it out.

But you need to spell it out, because your employee may not see it as a pattern or realize that it’s risen to the level of a serious concern.

So with the first employee, say something like this: “We’ve talked several times before about making sure that I don’t need to make corrections to X, Y, and Z, but work keeps coming to me with those same mistakes in it. It’s become a pattern. What can you do differently going forward to ensure that it doesn’t continue to happen?”

With the second employee, you need to have a bigger conversation, because the problems are more serious. You should not need to have so much handholding that there’s “constant communication,” and it’s a real problem that he forgets project objectives and neglects details to the point that there are multiples revisions and drafts required. With him, I think you need to consider that he might not be the right person for the job … but the place to start is by being very clear with him about the bar for performance that you need in the role (someone who doesn’t rush and make mistakes, someone who keeps their eye on the big-picture objective but still pays attention to the details, and someone who produces high-enough quality work that it can be finalized without so many revisions). Tell him what a successful performance in the role would look like, tell him where he’s not meeting that bar, and tell him that you need to see real improvement from him.

(And if the problems continue, at that point you’ll need to consider whether you need someone else in the role.)

The point here, overall, is that your job as a manager is to make sure that you’re getting the results you need. Part of getting great results in the long-term is hiring great people and giving them room to do their jobs well. But if you’re not getting the type of results you want — or if it’s taking an unreasonable amount of time to get them — then you need to step in and get more involved.

In your case, I think you’ve swung so far in the “I don’t want to be a micromanager! Eeeekk, it’s a dirty word!” direction that you’re hesitating to actually manage.

{ 114 comments… read them below }

  1. Jamie

    I won’t micromanage either – I’m not cut out for it – but what I’ve found with people new to projects (or at least projects the way I head them) are gannt charts with the project broken up into tasks and defined check in points where we can meet and do a little update. It’s not micromanaging – it’s making sure things are progressing properly (and on time) and it doesn’t let errors get too far afield.

    It also creates an organic conversation for issues that keep arising. Alison is absolutely correct in that it’s the patterns that are an issue. I’m a pattern person – I can see and sometimes almost feel them in data…probably why I enjoy analysis so much because I love the patterns emerge. Not everyone sees them and it’s your job to point them out.

    Doesn’t need to be a gannt chart either, that’s just my favorite tool…any kind of project plan would work. Some people are more autonomous than others and it’s really important you don’t have a less autonomous worker in a role that requires it. That will set you up to need to micromanage and no one wants that.

    1. AnotherAlison

      It also sounds like department standards and templates could fix some of the specific problems mentioned by the OP. (“use this terminology”, “decided to go with this format”)

      If you set up a standard department dictionary, part of your project plan could be a checklist with a line item to “Check document consistency with department dictionary.” You shouldn’t have to explain whether to use projection vs. outlook vs. forecast multiple times, but you should make sure the employees have been told why and can reference that info themselves if htey forget.

      1. EngineerGirl

        This is NOT a management issue. It is a process issue. Stop giving your employees ad hoc instructions. You do need templates if you want a standardized look. You need a written process document on how to develop you product. And you need checklists. There needs to be two checklists – one to get the frame work in place, and one as a checklist for the finished product. The checklists need to be specific yes/no questions, not soft ones. Not “are the references correct?” but “do the references contain the deed ID, the promissory note ID and date, etc. etc. They need to be VERY specific.

        Next, put everything in an easily accessible folder. Then give everyone training, If there are still mistakes after this ask questions. Were the instructions ambiguous?

        Manage the employee that doesn’t follow the instructions.

        1. EngineerGirl

          It would also help if you could characterize this mistakes you see – administrative, content, reference. Admin would be spelling, page numbers,formats. Again. Get specific so you can include a check for them in the checklists.

          Every time you get a doc with mistakes, characterize it. Track it. See if the number and severity are changing.

          Do this and you will have amazing results. Doing these same things I was able to get our contractors kick back rate from 80% down to 5%.

          And look up “process improvement” courses.

          1. EngineerManager

            I have a developer who works for me and always misses few details here and there. Worst part gets offended because I caught his mistakes. He thinks he is a good coder, no doubt he is but he doesn’t think about future proofing.
            If I have to make such detailed process then why would I hire employees, we would make detailed process and outsource work to some India and Russia and save 75% of my company’s money.

        2. Ask a Manager Post author

          Not all of this is process. Rushing and making mistakes and losing sight of the objective are not about process; they’re about the person’s approach.

          1. fposte

            Agreed, but setting up a procedure can often still mitigate those problems. (Suddenly I’m thinking of putting rocks in dogs’ food bowls to make sure they don’t wolf their food down.) We don’t know what exists in the OP’s office, of course, but right now she’s only talking about verbal direction and her authority, so I think a lot of us are wondering if there’s a vacuum where written procedures ought to be.

            1. EngineerGirl

              Exactly. If you follow a process you can’t be rushing (too much). And if they are going so fast they aren’t following process then that is something for management.

              Go slow to go fast (Paul Petzoldt – founder of NOLS)

    2. fposte

      Though sometimes the worker doesn’t realize you want him to be more autonomous, so make sure you’ve actually stated you need him to work more independently, too. (Made this mistake early in my career–fortunately, a smart friend said “Have you told her you want her to work on her own more?” Oh.)

      1. Anonymous

        Exactly.
        We have a micromanager who gets antsy if we don’t ‘check in’ often, no matter what our level of competence. She will complain to her peers about the ‘need’ for hand-holding, but any attempt at loosening the apron strings is met with deep suspicion.
        Sadly, this has led to some in my department being viewed as less competent than they really are.

              1. Receptionist

                [shake, shake, shake]
                Take it at face value. If they’re interested, they’ll call.

                1. Sarah G

                  [shake]
                  No, it’s not a great idea to (be the boss of, call or contact the boss of, be a reference for) a family member or close friend. And their job search advice, more often than not, sucks.

              2. Runon

                I am loving these. But I will say the great thing about AAM is you get to push a button to see a good clear explanation about why and what your options are.

                1. Josh S

                  Typical 8-balls apparently have a D20 in them, according to the searches I just did trying to find someone that makes custom-answer 8 balls…

                2. Jessa

                  You do realise they have little 8 ball programmes for the computer that you can customise? Giggle, you can actually make one that says these things.

                  Or AAM could sell to make $$ for the hosting one of those game spinners that has all these as options. You can get custom spinners. Gigglefit.

    1. Josh S

      We really REALLY need to make this happen. Anyone know where to find a place that will manufacture custom answers for inside the magic 8-ball? (Preferably in batches smaller than 10,000…)

      1. S. Martin

        Google finds a number of hits on custom magic 8 balls. I don’t have the time at the moment to sort through the hits to find a good one, but they’re out there.

        1. Josh S

          Yeah, I searched before posting, tyvm.

          All of those links I could find are for A) custom logos on the outside of a standard 8-ball, or B) they offer 5 or 6 different pre-set ‘custom’ options (like sarcasm or professional or finance), or C) they require batches of at least 10,000 to be made and a call to a sales rep to make the order happen.

          I just want something like Zazzle or CafePress or something where I can upload the custom bits and have them handle delivery, etc. and pass along a cut of the sales to Alison.

      2. Jessa

        I said it above this but for Windows computers that still use gadgets, there’s a customisable 8 ball.

        A quick google-fu shows there are numerous companies that make actual 8 balls with whatever you want on/in them.

        Also you can get the desk spinner kind made as well.

      3. Natalie

        Maybe we could make it a spinwheel, a la the Wheel of Morality on the Animaniacs.

        “Wheel of Ask A Manager, turn, turn, turn. Tell us the lesson that we should learn.”

  2. Lily in NYC

    To me, micromanagement is when a boss with anxiety/control issues can’t help but to butt in when it’s not necessary. As in – emailing me at 9:00 and asking me to call someone to set up a meeting. Then asking me at 9:05, 9:10 and 9:15 if I’ve done it yet even though I’ve already told you that I left the person a voice mail. Or checking up on my work repeatedly when I’ve already shown that I can do it without errors or handholding.

    Telling someone that they aren’t listening to direction and making mistakes because of it is constructive criticism, not micromanagement.

    1. Jamie

      Or calling you repeatedly on his day off to read aloud emails sent to both of you even though you’ve already discussed them “to make sure you fully understand.”

      I understand how to read. I understand that you’re an insecure control freak. Fortunately I also quickly understood how easy it was to write a letter of resignation, also. :)

    2. Xay

      Or literally standing behind you to watch you make their edits to a memo that they just handed you.

    3. Jesicka309

      Or making you “draft” emails, and send them to her for approval before you can send them out.
      Nightmare.

        1. Julie

          At one point, my manager told my colleague and me where to put our wastebasket in our shared office, and we were not allowed to move it. After she made her pronouncement and left, we just looked at each other in amazement.

  3. Anonimal

    My only caution OP is to do a double check on how clear your instructions actually are. This is something I’ve found with my own direct reports and with my bosses. Perhaps you aren’t giving them the information you think you are to complete the project. You know, the things we think we all “know” about something but really don’t.

    I’ve had this happen with bosses who’ve given me projects. I’m an obsessive note taker (due to previous micromanaging supervisors) and keep all my emails. I turn in a project and they say “X is wrong” or “you missed y”. Because you never told me to include Y or I didn’t know the details on X and had no reason to ask.

    Then I found myself doing the same thing to my staff when I first started managing. Caught myself really quick after I realized I sounded like old boss.

    Not saying that you aren’t right about their behaviors. I totally agree with AAM on this. But it’s worth checking on.

    1. Corporate Drone

      I agree. The lack of basic communication skills out there among gen pop is frighteningly astounding. I have had managers who truly believe that they are being clear and concise, when they are anything but. More often than not, there is a Great Unspoken Vision that guides projects.

      I suggest using a written project plan. It can be totally informal in an Excel sheet, or it can be something like what the PMO uses. But it will spell out tasks, responsibilities, and dates.

      1. Lora

        Or worse, the Great Vision is Spoken…but does not make the slightest bit of sense, actually contradicts itself in two short paragraphs, and has zero relevance to daily work.

    2. Kelly L.

      This is a good point. I sent a student assistant to make copies in the library the other day (this is in academia) and then was annoyed when she brought back B&W copies. But I hadn’t said color copies. I just assumed, because I’ve known this for eight years, the library is where you go to make color copies because the copier in our office is B&W, and so “copy this in the library” means “copy this in color.” But there was no way she would have known that! It was my fault. I was speaking “I’ve been here forever-ese” and she was hearing only my English.

      1. Anonimal

        Exactly this. And the “Great Vision” comment above as well. If you tell me the the “great vision” instead of keeping it a secret, odds are my work will more closely align with what you want.

        1. Jamie

          This is an excellent point. I am a fervent believer in giving people what I call the “Global Whys.” Not just what to do but why we’re doing it, why it matters, what the outcome will be…the importance of it.

          I think most people appreciate this – and those who don’t…who just want to be told to click here, print this, and staple here – well, they out themselves.

          1. BCranston

            All of this above. I think a lot of the difficulties I have had with a past manager could have been eliminated with him simply explaining why the work is important and why we are doing it. He was the king of information withholding and expecting me to read his mind, but I think those were just methods to keep his place and give me a dressing down when I didn’t deliver exactly what he wanted.

          2. Andrea

            Exactly. As a former tech, and now an admin, I have a tendency to ask, “Do you want me to fix this for you, or do you want me to show you how to fix it yourself?”

            1. Jamie

              Out of curiosity how many people answer with the latter?

              80%+ of my users just want me to ftfy and be gone. But I’m not in a tech industry, so maybe (hopefully) the odds are better elsewhere.

    3. Anonymous

      ++ Recently 6 different teams got the same unclear project instruction and each team presented something completely different. Our manager frantically called each dept on the deadline date when they started receiving the finished project. The only reason why our team did it correctly because we know our manager lacks simple communication skills like putting their name on memos. –so we asked for clarification at the beginning. Good thing it wasn’t a big deal but it was suppose to represent a theme. Needless to say the theme was not represent as envisioned.

    4. Windchime

      I was going to say something similar. In the past, I have had bosses frame things as a suggestion, when they really meant for it to be a directive. Don’t say, “Maybe consider formatting the X section similar to the Y section” if what you reallly mean is, “X and Y should both be formatted exactly the same, so please change X.”

      I’m a pretty technical person and I tend to take communications literally, so when someone makes a suggestion, I treat it as a suggestion. So it’s frustrating to me when something is stated as a suggestion, but only later I find out that it is actually a standard or a requirement. Not saying the OP is doing this, but it’s something to consider.

  4. College Career Counselor

    Similar to what Jamie mentions, would a style book or formatting guide be helpful in this case? Or are the projects too different for that to work? (This also assumes that these two employees will refer to a guide/manual when working..)

    The older I get, the more I see a lot of “good enough” type work coming through. I’m certainly not immune to making mistakes, but when it happens, I’m not happy. And the next time, I try really hard not to make them again. Proofreading–the lost art.

  5. Esra

    I’m at the point where I really want to say (but never will), “This has happened multiple times and it shows that you are not listening to me — you need to start showing me every project you are working on because I no longer can depend that you are learning from past mistakes and putting effort into your work.”

    I think you’ve almost got it here, it just goes off the rails a bit at the end. It’s perfectly reasonable to point out that an error has happened multiple times and that you need them to correct it going forward. I think you need to be stronger with your communication before coming to the point where you can no longer depend on your reports.

    1. fposte

      Right, there’s a middle way here. I wouldn’t even necessarily blame it on not listening–I’d say that the methodology they’re using isn’t achieving the accuracy that you need. So tell them that, and ask them to propose another step or a variation in the current practice that will minimize the errors. We’re out of “I’ll be more careful” territory–you tried that and it didn’t work–you’re looking for an actual change in procedure that gets written down. (If it’s something like names, a separate side-by-side verification with literal checkmarks when stuff passes can help.)

      While that’s more on point for the first employee, it can actually go for the second one, too, just make it a more broadly procedural addition. As people are saying upthread, a checklist to follow can make a *huge* difference in a case like this–it keeps him from bogging down in his own judgment as he tries to figure out what to do next.

  6. Coelura

    I will track the specific instances until I can show a pattern. Then I sit down with the employee and develop a plan for how the employee can address the pattern. When it’s silly mistakes, it’s very frustrating – particularly when the person is really doing a great job delivering their projects. However, if it will impact customer impressions, sales, or an audit finding, it’s no longer so silly.

    I try to show how the pattern is impacting or will impact the bigger picture, then hold the employee to the plan. If the employee doesn’t meet the plan require,nets, we move to a formal performance improvement plan. It’s unfortunate, but it’s better than micromanaging because my employees can’t be trusted to take care of the details!

  7. Lisa

    I think you are confusing mistakes vs, micromanaging. Fixing / alerting to mistakes are not micromanaging. That is managing. Micromanaging would be to tell your co-worker that the font really should be Arial vs Times Roman, and that all charts should be rounded corners, and that the shade of blue pen is unacceptable. A manager would alert to types, that the chart is actually missing this month’s data, etc.

    1. Jamie

      Lisa is totally right. You shouldn’t forbid the use of Times New Roman. Just create a template which uses calibri and arial and require THAT use. That keeps that icky old TNR out of the beautiful procedures without having to micromanage.

      Just kidding – but yeah – I think of micromanaging is when either they are checking and double checking things which history has proven the employee does properly OR nitpicking minutia about things that don’t matter.

      Micro-manager I mentioned above would “correct” proper use of a semi-colon and replace it with a comma because (and this is a direct quote) “I know you are are technically correct, but I think the sentences look prettier with commas.” I still don’t know what the hell that even means.

      1. KellyK

        WHAT? He “corrected” perfectly correct sentences into run-on comma splices because it was “prettier?” I’m kind of horrified.

          1. Esra

            The semi-colon is overshadowed only by the ampersand when it comes to prettiness.

            But Jamie touches on something that’s been driving me nuts (and driving me to apply for other jobs): When your manager/whoever knows what they want is wrong, but wants it anyway. So, so frustrating.

            1. Lexy

              commas are totally like a 5.5 while semi-colons are a solid 8… what sort of jerk thinks commas are prettier? THIS IS SCIENCE.

                1. Looking forward

                  That’s when a period is put into play instead of an error. Don’t you think that would look nice? ; )

      2. Julie

        And what’s up with Random Capitalization? My manager (and another manager from a previous job) randomly capitalizes words. The previous job manager said something similar to your manager – I know it’s not right, but I just like to capitalize certain words. (what?!) My current manager is a gem and very smart, so I’m really not sure why she does the random capitalization thing, but she not only lets me – she asks me – to proof every communication that goes out, and she doesn’t ask me to defend my corrections.

        1. Jamie

          Yes!! What IS this?? I worked with someone VERY proud of his degree in English and I always treated his communications like a puzzle to find the pattern he was using to randomly capitalize words. I never was able to solve that mystery.

          1. KellyK

            I see Random Capitalization of Important Things we want to Emphasize in marketing writing a lot. If he doesn’t have a marketing or sales background, I’m as stumped as you are.

            1. Jamie

              Nope. HR – and yes every form had to be proofed repeatedly to keep it from infiltrating control documents.

    2. AnotherAlison

      I think that depends heavily on what they’re doing. If they’re in marketing or communications, the font would be important. (Heck, even in engineering, drawings are supposed to have a specific font used, per the department standard). If the corporate standard is Calibri, telling someone not to used Times New Roman isn’t micromanaging, it’s managing. I’d rather be told what’s acceptable than to do it wrong for a year before the maanger finally says something.

      1. Athlum

        Yes indeed. Or, say, NIH funding applications, which require Arial 11pt or Helvetica 11pt, no exceptions. I’d hate to cost our department a multi-million-dollar grant opportunity for fear of being labeled a micro-manager! (Which could potentially happen, as the two investigators I most frequently work with — peers, not staff — refuse to write original content in anything except Arial-10 or Calibri, respectively…)

        1. Diane

          The PR department at my college tried to regulate which font I use in grant applications to comply with the college standard. They were not successful.

        2. Anonymous

          I’m throwing a micromanager-flag on this play. I’ve been involved in a decent amount of grant writing. Do you really think they are gonna bust out a ruler to check whether it is the 10-point vs. 11-point font? Throw out a perfectly great idea over a minor margin error? They just don’t want something unreadable, and they want sufficient (but not too much) detail.

          The only people I have ever seen who bust out the ruler for font sizes are the trolls that graduate schools hire to scan over your thesis before publication. They don’t care about grammar, spelling, or content; but they will not let someone graduate with anything smaller than 10 point font in any part of the document, and woe betide you if a graph protrudes so much as a millimeter into their sacred margins.

          1. Rana

            Oh, my, the stories that have been told about the dreaded Ruler Lady!

            My own nightmare encounter (she was a nice enough person, but the experience over all still gives me the yips) involved an error on Kinko’s part, which shifted the text on about five of the pages in the middle of the document a sixteenth of an inch to the side. Since I’d foolishly not allowed a margin of error in my margins (heh), I had to redo those pages.

            However! The copy shop – the only one in the city able to do the job – was a half hour’s drive away, and the office was closing for the semester in an hour’s time. And reprinting just those pages wasn’t possible because I’d foolishly set up the document as a series of linked subdocuments, so if you didn’t print the whole thing, the pagination got screwed up.

            So. I ended up taking those pages and copying them – on the special paper they demanded – at 98% of normal size, which fixed the margins while not being visibly smaller in terms of font. This actually worked, believe it or not, to my immense relief.

            Moral of story: don’t wait to the last minute on this stuff!

      2. Cassie

        I had one professor tell me not to use Times New Roman, he preferred Arial. And then another professor told me Arial was too casual and that I should use Times New Roman. You just have to remember who wants what! (My boss now couldn’t care less what font I use – he honestly doesn’t even notice).

    3. Jessa

      It may not be micromanaging. If the standard in the company is charts look like {{THIS}} and at some point those charts may be combined by other departments, then charts need to look like {{THIS}} and not {[this]} and especially if it’s design work that stuff can be critical. But hopefully the employee should be able to tell the difference. And honestly there should be templates for that anyway if it matters.

      1. Chinook

        Yes,yes, yes. Formatting of charts is important and has to be consistent because it looks unprofessional to have mixed formatting (nevermind distracting to those of us who are detail oriented). If it is not correctly formatted in the beginning, then someone (usually an administrator ass’t) has to go through and reformat everything for consistency which is a truly mind numbing waste of company time.

        1. Lisa

          ok, I get that companies have templates for charts. I only used it as an example because of my micromanager that would change the chart type, settings, and then change them back after reviewing it again. Each time forgetting he chose that way, but would tell me I was doing it wrong.

  8. Anon

    I agree with the above on checking your instructions, for the same reasons mentioned above.

    I’ve had someone instruct me in a supervisory capacity – Same person would give me instructions that contradicted her prior set of instructions, so after receiving multiple sets of instructions that each contradicted one another, I started losing my confidence in executing simple things and would start freezing up. They were minor things, too. When I was confused, I’d try and clarify things but I don’t think she understood or realized that her instructions were often inconsistent or contradictory. Other times, she would give very specific instructions but neglect to mention a few things until after she reviewed. But instead of just asking me to add in the additional things, she would lecture me in a “you should’ve known this” tone. Other times, I would do things the way she has always asked me to do something for a specific kind of project, but one day she started telling me this way is actually wrong and I shouldn’t be doing it that way. Repeat.

    Ultimately it depends I guess on your supervisory relationship. It’s nice to have someone take care of the first round of things and its always easier to double check something else someone else has done. If they are truly minor items for the first person, I wouldn’t mind so much, and just ask them to tweak a few things. I’ve had others review and send me proofs, and I’ve also delegated things to others but doublechecked / proofed things others have done.

    I’m not sure about the micromanaging part. I work in a supportive role for many people. Most people I assist will either mark a few things up and/or have consistent standards I can always fall back on. I guess it could come off as micromanaging if you typically focus on the tiny, preferential details no one cares about? Or if you get really anxious and constantly change your standards and expect your direct reports to do things exactly the new way.

  9. likesdesifem

    If it’s repeated, and they are showing no signs of improvement, I would suggest having a discussion with them and outlining how their performance is not up to standard. Do not formally sanction them at that point, but suggest that further mistakes may lead to documentation (memoranda, warning letters, etc.)

    It may seem harsh, however I feel the initial step in employee coaching and/or discipline should be an informal chat (and not in an angry tone) outlining the issue at hand and how steps can be taken to resolve it. If these steps are not adhered to, then employees need to be held to account.

  10. Just a Reader

    Feedback is so, so critical–and editing the work is just a minor part of that. You need to be setting clear expectations at the beginning of a project, checking in, offering guidance and at the end, offering detailed feedback.

    Could be as simple as, “These mistakes are happening frequently, and I need to see X instead” or as complex as a rundown of successes and challenges in the finished product. Praise is just as important as critical feedback.

    Not providing feedback is a disservice to yourself, the employee and the company, and can really compromise trust and the working relationship.

    My boss at my last job sat me down in December with feedback he had been collecting since JULY and gave it to me all at once–little things I could have corrected along the way with minimal effort morphed into Big Things because they hadn’t been addressed. All performance discussions prior to that time were about my promotion track so it was very confusing.

    This was one of the many reasons I left–I knew I couldn’t trust my manager to be open and honest about my performance, and that he wouldn’t take the time to give even minor critical feedback.

    Don’t be that manager.

  11. Anonymous

    “Micromanaging” is a derogatory nomenclature. What you need to do is address the errors much they way a teacher would: identify the problem, show how to solve it, test to reinforce. I would ditch the ‘micromanaging’ reference.

  12. Ariancita

    All good advice from AAM and the comments. One thing I would check, just in case, is if you’re giving your reports enough time to complete the project. If your reports are rushing to finish and are missing things because of this, it could be that their plate is overloaded (not just full, but over full). I know this has happened to me in some of my projects, where I’ve missed a simple mistake and missed it a second time, because I need to cram 80 hrs worth of high-level work into a 5 day work week.

  13. Mad Quoter

    The productivity of work is not the responsibility of the worker but of the manager.
    –Peter Drucker

  14. Joey

    I know most people think micromanage is a bad word, but that’s not always the case in my view. It’s perfectly fine, and frankly expected, that you micromanage. The key is its got to be warranted. Micromanage is only a bad word when you’re doing it unnecessarily.

    1. Esra

      I disagree. By its very definition, micromanagement is excessive. If you have an employee that cannot make good decisions on their own, follow instructions, or keep focus on a project, then all of those things are issues, but none of them will be properly solved by micromanagement.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        In those cases, though, you may need to micromanage while you’re sorting through the problem to ensure that the work gets done correctly. The key is to know that there’s a problem if you’re having to do it: you’re either not conveying what you need sufficiently or you have the wrong person in your role. So you take it as a flag that there’s a problem that needs to be corrected — but you stay very hands-on meanwhile to ensure the work does get done properly, while you’re resolving the situation.

      2. fposte

        See, I’d say *over*management is by definition excessive; micromanagement is by definition managing at a very, very granular level. Most of the time doing that does indeed mean you’re overmanaging, which is how most people use it, but sometimes you do have to manage at the most basic task level.

  15. Esra

    I think though, if you need to tightly manage someone while sorting through a problem, that wouldn’t be micromanagement because it’s not excessive for the situation.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Difference in definition, I think. But I agree that yes, you should do it when warranted (which I think you’re saying means it’s not micromanagement; I’m saying it is, but it’s warranted and necessary in that case).

    2. Joey

      Tightly manage, hands on manage, closely manage- they’re all basically micromanaging in my book. I think people just hate being called a micromanager.

  16. Anonicorn

    OK, this is mostly a joke, but I 10% wish you would do it for real. For your independent worker, tape this list to her monitor.

    ALWAYS Check for:

    Mistake 1
    Mistake 2
    Mistake 3

    If you continue finding the same issues, go in her office and point at the list. Periodically threaten to add other lists if she doesn’t shape up.

    1. danr

      Also, if you know where the mistakes occur, point this out to the worker. It might seem obvious to you, but is sure isn’t obvious to her. You need to make the steps leading up to the mistake absolutely clear. This is not micromanaging.

    2. Sydney Bristow

      I’ve totally done that for myself after making a mistake more than once. I love a good checklist.

  17. Jennifer

    I think it’s fair to say that if they always make the same mistakes, that you are going to need to proofread them on every single little thing they turn in until such time as they aren’t constantly making those errors any more.

  18. Diane

    OP, are you making suggestions or corrections? Because if your employees think you’re suggesting changes, they think you’re giving them options and opinions, not instructions.

    Be clear. And it is absolutely okay to address the pattern, give concrete examples, ask for a plan to correct it, and give a deadline to fix it. And in that context, there’s nothing wrong with saying, “This has happened multiple times and it shows that you are not listening to me — you need to start showing me every project you are working on because I no longer can depend that you are learning from past mistakes and putting effort into your work.” And at the end of your trial period, if they haven’t improved, find employees who will do what you need.

    1. AB

      Suggestion vs. correction: this caught my attention in the OP’s question as well.

      OP said: “When I share my thoughts and offer suggestions I try to explain the reasoning so they both know”

      Right there I think is a big part of the issue. If you tell your subordinates things implying you are just “sharing your thoughts” or “offering suggestions”, it’s quite possible that they are thinking, “it’s fine if I continue to do things the way I was doing before, because this was just a suggestion, which I took into consideration but then decided I didn’t have to use”.

      When you are the boss, and are trying to get your subordinates to behave in a certain way, it’s not productive to frame the guidance you provide as “suggestions”. Perhaps just by being more assertive and direct in his/her instructions, the OP will be able to quickly fix the situation.

  19. EngineerGirl

    We don’t know if the employees aren’t listening, or aren’t understanding, or are just sloppy. We don’t know if the manager is communicating correctly or not. But if you have a checklist in place the employees don’t have a excuse anymore. That places the burden of their performance back on them.

    1. Lily

      You reported an incredible improvement upthread and I am thinking the checklist worked because it is such a clear form of communication. May I ask how you gave the feedback? Did you do it via email or have them come in?

      1. EngineerGirl

        We kept statistics of each type of error. Then tracked it over time. We also tracked rejected documents and the number of times things were rejected. There was lot of initial howling about how the checklists were too much busywork etc. but after a few documents went through on the first pass people stopped complaining and started using. No one likes rework.

        One psychological thing I did with each checklist question – it was either yes, no , or N/A. It was in excel, so I formatted the checklist answer to turn red for every “no”

  20. Lexie

    To the OP- I was in a very similar position with my team when I first started as a inexperienced manager. It was easier to deal with correcting small mistakes and to handhold than it was to confront my team about the issues I was seeing. When I finally wised up and gave my team the feedback they needed, I was amazed at the transformation. Sometimes a direct discussion of the issues you are seeing becomes an excellent platform for overall improvement in your group. I found that by identifying the reoccurring process issues that did exist and my team brought forward in our performance discussions , I cut down on one source of errors. There were still other significant performance issues such as described in your second scenario, but my team member was able to focus on improving those specific traits once I was honest and direct about my expectations. Just wanted you to know that these situations can have happy endings.

  21. Lily

    I’m wondering if the pattern conversation needs to be about communication. “I get the impression you are not listening to me. I have been giving you feedback both verbally and in writing but you have been making the same mistakes again. I expect you to pay attention to what I say and ask questions about what you don’t understand. Since this has become a pattern, I require a plan to do better. I suggest that you create a quality control checklist incorporating my feedback. Do you have other ideas? “

  22. Bryce

    From what I’ve read so far, it seems that what’s going on boils down to three things: communication, process, and fit.

    Communication: Either you’re not making your feedback clear, or your employees aren’t listening to it and taking it to heart.

    Process: By this I mean checklists, but incorporating, say, an extra step can help here.

    Fit: Perhaps these employees are better at “big-picture” work, for example. If so, they’d most likely excel in a different position inside or outside your organization.

  23. Anonymous

    I think this is a common concern for new managers. I have also had to learn how to deal with this. When I get a new team or occasionally just to restate my management philosophy, I will flat out tell them, “Look, I’m going to check in with you at regular intervals (we have huddles 3 times per week and monthly 1:1s with everyone, as well as weekly team meetings) and I’m going to trust that you’re going to share with me at that time, any information I need to know. If I find that’s not happening, then I’m going to have to manage more closely.”

    Since it sounds as though the time for standing back and trusting things to get done well has passed, it’s completely reasonable and expected that as a manager, you’re going to have to manage them more closely.

    Also, the communication part is important. I lay out to everyone my expectations and preferences on communication and ask what theirs are. That way I know how best to communicate with each person and hopefully avoid errors.

  24. Annie Anonymous

    This was a fabulous post. I have a question which is a variation on this theme.

    I inherited 2 employees who are both very inexperienced in the roles they are in – I would never have hired them myself.

    It’s been 7 hairy, exhausting months. in 4 months the team will be restructured and neither will be continuing in their roles (company related not performance-related)

    Have turned into the mother of all micromanagers. Both of them keep making the same mistakes over and over. Zero attention to detail (in addition to inexperience with the tasks).

    So give up. Or tell it to them straight?

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