Motivate People without Over Managing or Micromanaging

Micromanaging-with-carrotsI don’t doubt that most managers truly want to motivate people to peak performance; it’s the way they go about it that backfires. In a fervent desire to teach people what they know to be true (after all, it worked to get them promoted to management, right?), some managers enthusiastically over-manage.

Over-management can also manifest as micromanagement. When a manager tells someone what to do, how to do it, when to do it, why their way is better, they undermine the person’s ability to think for themselves.  Instead of someone feeling as if they have some control over the way they work, they begin to feel powerless and controlled. They many even start to doubt their competency. Their relationship with their manager becomes fragile, since it is based on compliance and conformity.

Managers who micromanage destroy any chance of people finding meaning and fulfillment in their work. People’s basic psychological needs for autonomy, relatedness and competency are left wanting. When that happens, workers withdraw and disengage.

The Domino Effect

In effect, these three needs are dependent upon one another: autonomy, relatedness, and competence. When you fail to offer opportunities for learning and growth (competency), you make it difficult to satisfy needs for autonomy and relatedness. The other needs are lacking as a result of one deficiency. Mess with one, the others fall like dominoes.

It’s a mistake to think your people aren’t motivated. They are, just for things they may not be able to name (autonomy, relatedness and competence). People want to learn, they want to grow, enjoy work, be productive and make a contribution. They want to enjoy relationships at work. It’s their human nature.

When psychological needs are satisfied, you experience positive energy, vitality and a sense of well-being. You can’t help but strive for more. You’ve probably experienced this with your own hobbies or sports. You do not need someone to tell you to go out and practice, you do it because you enjoy it.

Organizational systems are built on the faulty assumption that people need to be rewarded for accomplishing goals. What would happen if in addition to focusing on results, performance, and productivity, managers and leaders focused on helping people satisfy their needs for autonomy, relatedness and competence? I think the number of engaged workers would double, turnover would decline and productivity would skyrocket.

What do you think? Am I being too idealistic to think that managers and their organizations can shift to what the science of motivation has proven for over 60 years? I know some companies like Southwest Airlines, Zappos, WD40 actually provide opportunities for their people to thrive. What about where you work? Still wielding carrots and sticks?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Contact me here and on LinkedIn.

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  1. By November 2014 | Crusader Staffing Associates on December 2, 2014 at 10:25 am

    […] up on my series of posts about why 90% of managers are under-managing. We hear a lot about micromanaging and busy bosses who command and control, but survey data tell us “hands-off” managing is […]

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