Cracking the Whip – 50 Shades of Management.




Cracking the Whip – 50 Shades of Management

The world is now engulfed in the phenomenon that is 50 Shades of Grey and, as this Valentine’s weekend has been the perfect platform to launch the film. A weekend of love and lust, and a movie about a different kind of love and lust.


I am reminded that our work and the way we are managed can feel like a rather perverse relationship. Having a manager who likes to crack the whip can be an unpleasant experience for many, whilst others don’t mind a bit of decisive direction. When I train managers they find it a challenge to balance the two extremes of people management. Autonomy and Micro Management. These two approaches rather like the subject of the film can make the recipient feel trusted and appreciated or suppressed and held down. Getting it right depends on how well the manager understands what motivates the individual and not what simply gets the job done. A quick wham-bam approach can leave an employee feeling used and empty. Resulting in resentment and the feeling of being badly managed.

Autonomy- Experience or Risk?

The choice as to whether to offer autonomy lies in the manager being able to view the task that needs to be achieved, the length of time it needs to be completed in and the experience of the person being asked to it. It is worth mentioning that autonomy can also be viewed as giving someone enough rope to hang him or herself with, so be careful not to over test an employee’s capability, else they screw up. Ideally the manager needs to consider whether the task should be delegated (imposed) on the employee or whether it should be set as an objective (mutually agreed). Next risk. The risk is based in the experience the person being asked to complete the task actually demonstrates. If the experience is high then the risk is low so it would be correct to offer autonomy to that person, as you could probably trust them to be able to do a good job. Bear in mind that often when considering the risk you can take a chance on someone, they could really appreciate the chance of doing something out of their realm of ability and this could stretch and develop them further.

If however the experience is very low then the risk is higher meaning the application of micro- management should be considered.

Micro- Management- Breathing down my Neck.

Many people dislike micro management, and with good reason, as it leaves a person with the feeling that they cannot get on with things and that they are not trusted. By contrast it can also be a way of reviewing progress or measuring the success of the employee. It is just about perception. If an employee has little experience in doing a specific task or project, but demonstrates a great attitude and approach to it, then perhaps having a few check points and review periods is appropriate, this will protect them and give them a chance to stop or continue if things get too overwhelming for them, a bit like a safety word in Christian Grey’s world! A slight digression but can you imagine that? Having a special word between a manager and an employee that told the manager when enough was enough? Cries in the office of “I am exercising my safety word ‘CATFLAP’ you have managed me enough” imagine that. Anyway the point is, if applied the right way, the use of micro management can come across as less of a control thing and more of a safety net. Of course there are employees who need a form of micro management, if they are going through a performance management issue or under disciplinary to correct a behaviour, but even here, sometimes a little trust can go a long way to making improvements.

Turning the tables.

It is not just about the manager though; the responsibility an employee has to allow their own manager to manage them should not be underestimated. Recently a delegate attending my Leader Manager’s Journey informed the group that she had an employee who told her that she did not want to be managed, she preferred to be left alone as she has been in the business longer than the manager, and has been doing the job and its different variances for many years. In addition, in team meetings the employee was very vocal about doing things her way and would dismiss out of hand anything the manger said as she had ‘heard it all before’. The manager had no idea how to actually deal with this as on one hand the employee was right and was really good at her job, but on the other was out of line in not accepting the manager or the position the manager played in the department. Now you might be thinking that the employee was not being respectful, either of the manager or the position, but respect is an overused word in management, and when you recognise that respect is created and born out of admiration then in this and in many other cases it is not appropriate, there is no admiration! The group suggested performance management for her, citing a bad attitude, which after discussion it was agreed would only antagonise her further, being a form of micro management. Later it was suggested that a collaborative approach might be useful. Perhaps working with the employee on methods that had worked in the past and welcoming her contribution and suggestions on how things could be done would offer her some inclusion and give her autonomy and trust. Applying this approach whilst in the background having a checks and measures process in place in case things went wrong might be the best approach. Since the course, the manager has had considerable success with the employee and has built quite a connection with her. In fact there has been an occasion where having the checking process in place actually prevented something going wrong, something the employee did not see, but the manager did. This collaboration has really helped and blending autonomy with subtle micro management has made a difference.

It is easy to think in terms of black and white when it comes to giving autonomy or micro management, but in reality there are probably at least fifty shades of grey.

This blog forms part of my Leader Manager’s Journey, if your business requires management development please drop me an email at call me on 07979 53724. or use the form below.  Thanks for reading.

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