4 signs that your team needs you more involved

If you’re like most managers, you’ve probably proclaimed at some point that you’re not a micromanager. And that makes sense – hovering over your staff while they work, dictating how the smallest details should be done, or actually doing their work for them are all bad things that should be avoided. But it’s rarer for people to talk about the problems with the other extreme on that spectrum: being too hands-off when your team needs you to be more involved. That can be just as damaging as micromanaging, and yet it gets far less attention. In fact, many managers even brag about how hands-off they are with their team members – which isn’t always an effective style.

Here are four signs that your team needs you more involved than you currently are.

1. When work is completed, it doesn’t look like you wanted it to. If you’re often surprised or frustrated that work product doesn’t meet your expectations, take it as a flag that you’re either not delegating the work correctly at the beginning or not staying sufficiently involved along the way – and possibly both.

Taking the time to agree on expectations at the start of a project and then staying involved and checking in as the work progresses is what allows you to keep work on course, catch problems early, and course-correct if necessary. It’s also what makes it highly unlikely that you’ll be surprised by key details of a project at the end, and keeps your staff members from being frustrated when they need to go back and redo something because they didn’t get your input earlier on.

2. You’re not sure if team members know your assessment of their work (or you know for sure that they don’t because you’ve never told them). If you have an opinion about a team member’s work, good or bad, and that person doesn’t know it, you’re not communicating enough. That’s what leads top performers to feel unappreciated, mediocre employees to think they’re performing at a high level, and low performers not to be held accountability.

3. You don’t know if your employees are on track to meet their biggest goals. You might assume that they are and that they’ll tell you if they’re not on track to meet their goals, but a surprising number of people don’t proactively update their manager on this kind of thing – or update the manager much later than the manager would prefer. Plus, by not checking in about progress toward big goals, you’re signaling that you might not take those goals all that seriously.

At least quarterly, and in some cases monthly, you should be checking in with each staff member about their progress toward their biggest goals. You might also ask people to set interim milestones so you can both easily spot where projects are getting off course.

4. You’re not getting the results you want. If you’re not seeing the results that you want in a particular area of work or from a particular person, it’s time to get more closely involved so that you can get more insight into what’s happening on the ground, provide better coaching and direction, figure out what changes need to be made, and make sure they happen.

{ 21 comments… read them below }

    1. fposte*

      I don’t think that’s necessarily true, though. It wouldn’t make sense for my manager to know about everything I do, and it especially wouldn’t make sense for my manager to know how it happens.

      Managers should trust their staff and accept their input on expectations, though, so if that’s your subtext I’ll certainly agree with that.

      1. F.*

        fposte, I agree with you that managers shouldn’t be expected to know the details of everything their subordinates do, especially in a larger department or company. However, I read Charlotte’s comment as the manager not knowing what the employees do on even a basic level. When our Sales & Marketing person let us know she would be leaving in a few months (marriage & relocation), I told our mutual boss he needed to find out everything the Sales & Marketing person was doing. I really felt we needed at least a half-time person to replace her. Boss didn’t bother to find out, and within a week after Sales & Marketing person’s last day, things were starting to fall apart. Boss finally admitted he hadn’t had an idea about half of what the Sales & Marketing person had been doing. Duh! (and no, we never did get to hire someone to replace her, even part-time)

        1. fposte*

          Yes, that’s bad. And you’re right–if Charlotte Lucas was speaking more broadly, that’s a big flaw. But if she’s speaking more specifically, I disagree with it as a necessity. I think I was influenced by the notion that gets posted here occasionally that managers should be able to do the tasks that their reports have to do, which I think is neither necessary or useful.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            I definitely meant in a much broader context. To the point of being unaware what my department is and isn’t responsible for. Also, to the point of being unaware of the contractual obligations that my department is responsible for. (Apparently, we have Brownies that handle all these things, because they just seem to magically happen.)

  1. LQ*

    Along with #2 if you tell other people your staff are valuable to you but you never tell your staff, you’re missing an important piece.

    My boss spends a TON of time with the “problem” employees and it is incredibly frustrating because I’m never sure if I’m doing a good job or going down the right path until someone 3-4 levels above me comes along and says something like hey I hear you are doing great work on the Y program. (This only happens like 1-2 times a year.) That is a highly ineffective way to tell me if I’m doing something well or not.

  2. ThursdaysGeek*

    From those criteria, I guess my bosses are doing just fine, even though I only see them a few times a year, and don’t have regular one-on-ones.

    I’m a bit hazy on #2, because I don’t always feel like I’m doing that great of a job, but when I ask I’m told I’m doing fine. I do wish there were some way to compare myself with my peers (also located elsewhere), to help me figure out my own worth.

  3. Marketing Girl*

    SO MUCH THIS!! I’m thinking about putting this on my Boss/CEO’s desk anonymously. Our front line customer service staff are out of control and don’t know how to properly do their jobs. His answer anytime anyone complains is, “I don’t micromanage you- why would I micromanage them?” He doesn’t see all the other parts this article discusses. They have no goals so they sure won’t met any. Results are terrible since they rarely get their work in on time and correct. They come in late at least 3 times a week…. ugh- *sigh* …. and it’s very demoralizing to the rest of the staff. (rant over)

  4. Artemesia*

    Great advice. It is hard for lots of people to manage with the right level of oversight. In my profession people get into management for reasons other than their obvious talent at managing — and this is true in a lot of businesses as well, oddly enough. Expertise at doing the job and expertise at managing those doing the job are not the same skill set.

    I was fairly terrible at managing and feedback and it took a long time to get this balance right. For me the key was being extremely clear on the front end what I was looking for and then providing early feedback on quality. I was spoiled by a couple of subordinates with thermostats set at ‘excellent’ who always produced work for me that required fairly little rework to incorporate it into grants, reports, presentations etc. Then I got people whose thermostat was set at ‘eh, good enough for a first pass, no big deal’ and had to deal with last minute work that I could not use without lots of further research and work — Until you know whom you are dealing with, very clear expectations and then early feedback until a rhythm is established is critical.

    I found that people didn’t feel micromanaged when they were required to check in and present what they were doing frequently — there is a difference between just sticking your finger in someone’s eye and actually listening to them and then providing feedback.

    1. Jennifer*

      Expertise at doing the job and expertise at managing those doing the job are not the same skill set.


  5. AFT123*

    This is REALLY interesting for me! My boss is a pretty mixed bag of not involved and micro-manager. Her style is reflective of everything on this list, but she also will sometimes swoop in to something and just totally micro-manage. I thought it was a reflection on my work, but I approached her about this to find out how I can improve, and she had nothing but great things to say, so… I guess this is just her style? I guess the nice thing is that I have a long leash for the most part.

    1. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night*

      My old boss was like this. In her case, she was totally hands off (super checked out on the job due to personal issues at home), until a higher-up would ask her about a project or process that she was clueless about. Then she would be aggressively in your face, demanding that you walk her step by step through everything you’d done for the last couple of months.

      It’s about what you could expect from a manager who, when asked to put together an org chart of the department, forgot to put herself on it. *facepalm*

  6. F.*

    #3. Your employees don’t even know what their goals are. My title is HR Manager, however, I really have little idea whether I am supposed to be a *manager* in that I make decisions and set policy OR am I just an *administrator* who does a lot of data entry and pushes paper all day. While I do not actually manage people, I am often given the people management tasks that their own managers do not want to do such as dealing with performance issues, terminations, and other unpleasant necessities of management. I realize that being an HR Manager in a small company (HR Department of One) means wearing many hats, but my goals are not very clear to me even after nearly a year-and-a-half in the position. When I sat down with my own manager (the General Manager, one level below the Owner), I couldn’t get a straight answer. I have a list of tasks, but those are not the same as goals. I try to set my own goals, but still do not know whether they are in line with the company’s goals. Sometimes, I’m not even sure what the company’s goals are, but that’s another story.

  7. justsomeone*

    SO MUCH THIS. At the worst job I ever had (for many reasons, this one included) I was informed after three months that I was doing something incorrectly that impacted other parts of the team. THREE MONTHS. And when I tried to ask my manager about it she didn’t have the time to help me understand the correct way to do the thing. I had another team member show me, and it turned out that my manager had only shown me 3/4 of the process that I was supposed to be doing, so not only was I doing one thing incorrectly, but I was also missing out on a quarter of the process. (This was a data-entry/management contract so this one process was literally the only thing I did all day.) I never saw my manager, she was sooooooo hands off. It was the WORST.

    1. AFT123*

      Ugh that sucks, I feel your pain! The worst part about this is that even if you are a super proactive person and seeking feedback regularly, you have no way of know what you don’t know! You couldn’t even have asked about the missing 1/4 of that process because you had no idea you were missing something!

  8. bopper*

    During my performance review, I actually asked my boss something like “How do you know what I do?” and she said “I hear things”. So I make sure she hears good things.

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