Monday, March 14, 2022

Managerial Delusions: One-on-Ones are Micromanaging

Most managers don't manage. 

The concept of the manager being actively involved in the employees' work is foreign to most people. Some will be so baffled by the idea of a weekly one-on-one that you can see it on their face. Upon suggesting that managers should meet with their staff every single week, I've received looks that plainly say, "You can't be serious." 

I get it. My younger self would have been among these skeptics. For most of my work life, I only had two kinds of conversation with my boss: "Hi, how's it going" at the beginning of my shift, or "You messed up and we need to talk about it." That's normal. That's expected. Proposing that a boss should do more than that is a little creepy, a little tone deaf. 

Here's an analogy. People who come from families where you never talk about your feelings cannot imagine the point of doing it on a regular basis. Even more, they find themselves feeling superior to families that do routinely check in with each other. "Our love is understood. It is so strong that we don't need to constantly remind each other of it. If you need to talk about your feelings all the time, it must be because you are weak." 

"The job is understood. My people are so on top of their work that I don't need to constantly check in on them. If you need to touch base with your employees every week, it must be because you are a weak manager." 

This is a delusion, and a very powerful one. It has a certain undeniable logic. But it is the logic of bravado, not the logic of results. Every study of effective management bears out the same result: more communication equates to more effective teams. The origin for this delusion, like so many managerial delusions, comes from our own history of having bad bosses. If you see your boss as a roadblock to getting your work done, it is impossible to imagine a world where weekly one-on-ones are useful. You can only feel horror and dread at the idea of walking your boss through your current work and asking advice. With that kind of boss, asking for advice is about as helpful as trying to write a report without using the letter "e." It can be done, but why add the complication?

We can't imagine the point of these meetings as the employee, so we don't even consider doing them when we are the boss.

There are some lucky few of us, however, who have had a different kind of boss. We had a boss who was an asset to getting our work done. Our conversations with that boss were collaborative rather than authoritarian. Every time we came to them with questions about our work, the boss helped us develop our plan. When we came to them with new ideas, they explored ways to make it work rather than immediately shutting them down. 

When you can see your boss as someone who assists your work rather than blocks your work, it becomes very easy to see the value of one-on-one meetings. The meeting is just a way to build all of these helpful, beneficial conversations into the routine of the work week. When the boss "checks in on your work," they aren't checking to see if you screwed up. They're checking to see how they can help. When they need to give you negative feedback, they do it matter-of-factly without judging you personally. When they ask how things are going, there is no hidden agenda. 

We could go on. It boils down to this. Yes, if your current horrible boss added one-on-one meetings without changing anything else about their management, it would be worse than your boss doing nothing at all. You won't break free of the delusion that one-on-ones are micromanagement until you can imagine a world where the boss isn't out to get you.

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