Is there a good balance between micromanagement and a hands-off approach to motivate employees?

Taken to the extreme, hands-off management is an abdication of your responsibility and accountability to get the work done. On the other hand, micromanagement, the process of controlling every detail and decision associated with getting a job done, can take away an employee's pride of ownership in his or her work and can rob the employee of job satisfaction. The worker becomes dependent on the micromanager to ensure the quality of the final job, so carelessness can creep in. Likewise, employees stop thinking creatively.

Micromanagers haven't learned how to trust others to do their work well. Instead of devoting time and attention to training employees, providing them with the information they need, they hover over everything they do, demonstrating a lack of confidence in their ability and making them, unintentionally, dependent. Are you a micro-manager or a hands-off type? Or do you practice situational management, providing the right level of supervision depending on the circumstances?

Ask yourself these questions:

Do experienced employees get the same level of direction as brand-new employees?

Do you ask to review every step in a job and often visit employees at work to check on them, whether problems have existed in the past or not?

Do you insist on reading and reviewing every piece of writing that goes out of the department on the assumption that you—and only you—know what to say and how to say it?

Are your ideas the only ones implemented and does your voice dominate meetings?

"Yes" replies suggest you need to learn how to better balance your management, offering direction when the need exists, but otherwise allowing your employees the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities.

How do I keep enthusiasm high during tough economic times?

During tough economic times, employees will worry about their job security. If you know members of your team will be laid off, let them know as soon as possible. Employees should not leave the office uncertain about their position unless it is absolutely necessary.

When decisions about layoffs take too long, and employees aren't given the information about what is happening, negative feelings toward the organization develop.

Employees who survive layoffs experience negative feelings as well. Be aware that they may be upset; give them the time to readjust.

If you can help those laid off to find new positions, do so. Not only will it make you feel better but it will also make the survivors feel that you truly care about those who were let go. This can go a long way to taking the edge off of anger with the organization. Those who stay will know that you and the organization are concerned about everyone's future.

How do I keep plateaued employees motivated?

Plateauing is basically what happens when an employee reaches the highest level he or she can go in the company. There are no more opportunities for advancement—no chances to grow or to be challenged. Plateaued employees feel completely frustrated by this apparent lack of control over their careers; they frequently don't put in the same effort; their morale declines; they are tardy or stay home. If an opportunity for another job presents itself, they will take it.

Meet with your plateaued employees, and let them know that their situation is not unique. If it is not due to their own competencies but rather is a result of actions taken by your firm to achieve competitive advantage, let them know. They may want promotions, but your employees can't be made promises that you cannot keep. Promotions, however, aren't the only way out of plateauing.

As an option, offer a lateral transfer or sit down with the employee to redesign or restructure his or her job. This not only solves the problem of repetitive routine but also lets the employee know that you have confidence in his or her ability to learn and master new skills.

Tell Me More

Career plateauing stems from two situations:

1. Structural plateauing stems from the lack of any place higher within the organization to go. This is a situation that happens to everyone sooner or later. But given today's lean organizations, it is happening sooner for a larger number of people. There are just more people available to fill fewer vacancies due to downsizing. The result is that many talented, hardworking employees do not have the same opportunities they once had to climb the corporate ladder.

2. Content plateauing occurs when an employee knows a job so well that it no longer is challenging. After a few years in these positions, they have no interest in going to work. The jobs are often entry-level or other lower-level positions. Everywhere else the holders of these jobs see changes occurring, but their jobs remain the same. And there is nowhere within the organization a higher position to which they can go that would offer the challenges they need.

Talk to the employee to determine why they feel they have plateaued. Determining why can help you determine a solution. Sometimes, just talking about the problem—letting the employee know you are aware of their frustration and dissatisfaction—can help. Often, an employee just needs to be able to redirect energies and thoughts to get off the plateau. By talking—and listening—to your employee, you can help him or her sort out his or her feelings and reach some decisions about how he or she can become more satisfied.

By being supportive and by working to redesign some jobs, you can improve the quality of work life for your employees—and as their morale goes up, so will the productivity level in your department.

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