Let’s have a real conversation about being a hands-on manager

OK, so putting aside any squeamishness you might have about the terms “hands-on,” let’s talk about one of the most understood challenges in the workplace.

Many managers can’t seem to get their thoughts around the idea of “micromanaging,” and they are so afraid of being a micromanager that they fall back on the old b***shit idea of “hiring good people and then staying out of the way.”

When I hear a manager say they want to hire good people and then stay out of their way, I have two reactions. First is “good for you; you want to empower people and trust them to do their jobs.” The second reaction is, “maybe you just don’t have the discipline to be hands-on with your people, so you just pretend you’re doing the right thing by being a passive partner to them.”

Good managers are on top of things – they are “hands-on.” Now, what this doesn’t mean is that they are pests, control freaks, or busybodies. What I mean by hands-on is this:

  • You know what everyone in your team is working on.
  • You have established priorities for your team, so they are always working on the most important thing.
  • You ask each member of your team to be productive and to manage tasks effectively. This means you may need to review their to-do lists and calendars regularly.
  • The team feels supported to you AND accountable to you for the productivity and quality of their work.
  • You have frequent conversations to keep things on track, and you are aware of when anything important in your area is off-track or behind schedule. This doesn’t mean you solve everyone’s problems for them, but it does mean you make sure they get resolved.
  • You check in frequently to see how people are feeling about their work. Are they overwhelmed? Need help? Need more information? As a hands-on manager, you know these things, and you don’t get surprised when someone is upset or walks out the door.
  • When you are out of the office, everyone knows what’s expected of them when you’re gone.

There are many other aspects of being a hands-on manager. I think where it tips over into micromanagement is when you consistently show distrust for people, you criticize them frequently, you tell them to do things without explanation or context, and you spy on people’s work rather than review it and discuss it openly with them.

So your job is neither to micromanage people or to “hire good people and stay out of their way.” Instead, your job is to hire and develop good people and then help them clear a path to productivity and job satisfaction by knowing them well, understanding what they are responsible for, and setting and resetting goals and priorities on a very regular basis.

About the Author

Sarah Thomson

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