by Sean Kelly
When you first launch your company, you have to micromanage to some extent – there’s little or no team infrastructure and, since you’re building a company from the ground up, every decision builds and shapes the future of the company. As you scale your business, however, there comes a time when micromanaging actually damages your organization. It also makes running and working in your business a lot less fun.
Assuming you have the right people on the bus in the first place, real growth comes in realizing when to nitpick and when to simply let go and delegate. I believe a dedicated individual delivers far more value performing in an environment of freedom than when someone is continually looking over her/his shoulder. So as my company has grown, I’ve had to learn how to be an efficient boss who lets his employees take the reins and, thus, grow personally and professionally. Doing so leads to happier employees and an overall enhanced team performance.
In my opinion, the most effective management style is summed up in the words of Shunryu Suzuki, a Zen Buddhist expert and author of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. In his book, Suzuki suggests that the best way to control people is to give them a great deal of space, allow them to mess around, and then to just watch them. “To ignore them is not good; that is the worst policy. The second worst is trying to control them. The best one is to watch them; just to watch them, without trying to control them.”
Suzuki’s suggestion may seem oversimplified or silly, but I’ve actually found that it’s dead on. If your employees feel like they have freedom to be themselves and your confidence, all they need to know is that you’re watching them. This, combined with some basic structure, will lead to the best performance.
Here are four strategies we use at my company, HUMAN Healthy Vending, to boost employee productivity without micromanaging:
1. Create a system to share “crucial results” across the company.
Employees and managers must be able to share their daily and weekly goals. First, create a way for your employees (managers, too) to share the most important action items they have for the week and have them list, daily, what they are going to accomplish in order to achieve those weekly goals. This provides a way for employees to be accountable to their own goals, allows managers to see what their direct reports are doing (and provide adequate feedback and guidance), and provides a way for teams to track progress toward shared goals. The key here is to also go over these goals in a quick huddle every day to ensure that the goals chosen for the day and week are actually the most valuable to each department and to the company as a whole. While there are software programs like Asana that make it easy to share goals, I have found that a shared Google spreadsheet works just as well. Each employee at our company is on the same spreadsheet, though for larger companies it may make sense to break it down by department. At the end of each day, employees color-code each daily goal — a green highlight signifies the task has been completed and a red highlight signifies the task was not completed.
2. Start the morning with a huddle.
Morning “huddles” have consistently proven to be a great way for companies to energize their team and make sure everyone is set up for success. Broken down by department, each team member has 30 seconds to list his or her number-one most important objective of the day, share any big wins, and let others know if he or she needs help or guidance on a specific issue or problem. This way, everyone is on the same page and feels aligned, and potential problems are solved much sooner than they otherwise would be.
3. Conduct weekly “direct report” meetings.
Just like professors have “office hours,” managers should have an ongoing timeframe where employees can come to speak to them about specific projects. I have a recurring weekly appointment with each of my direct reports to discuss progress on goals and to provide feedback. This helps cut down emails since my staff knows that they have a recurring appointment to discuss action items, questions and problems in person. I always ensure that I have an agenda for each meeting a day in advance so we make the best use of our time. Recently we’ve been using15Five software to lead these meetings, and serve as a kick-off point for our conversation together. Having a set template for each meeting, and reviewing action items from last week, is absolutely essential.
4. Have a company-wide email policy.
It is one of my personal policies that email does not dictate my actions or my schedule. Instead, I prefer to use my time to create, rather than react. It would not make sense, however, for me to be the only one with this constrained email policy. So, we are all “mindful emailers.” We do not allow internal emails to the entire team before noon each day. This helps us ensure that the most vital hours for productivity (the morning hours) are reserved for crushing it. This is especially useful for a team with a sales staff, and ensures that people’s crucial results are handled early in the day rather than at the end.
If you’re running a startup, chances are you have your hands in everything. This is fine, and necessary when you’re in the early stage of your business. But you can only scale your growth if you hire and train employees to take over certain aspects of the business so that you can stick to your high-leverage activities. There’s a fine line between being an engaged manager and a micromanager. The above steps will help you discover where it is.
Sean Kelly is a Johns Hopkins and Columbia-University-trained biomedical engineer and nutrition-focused social entrepreneur who co-founded HUMAN (Helping Unite Mankind And Nutrition) in 2008 to make healthy food more convenient than junk food while turning the $42B vending industry on its head. HUMAN is now the world’s leading socially-responsible franchisor of healthy vending machine businesses and healthy micro-markets with hundreds of franchisees and thousands of machines and markets placed across the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. Sean has landed on many coveted business lists, including Forbes’ “30 Under 30,” CNN Money’s “Top 10 Generation Next Entrepreneurs,” Business Week’s “Top 25 Young Entrepreneurs” and Mother Nature Network’s “Innovation Generation: 30 Fresh Thinkers Helping Humanity Adapt to What’s Next.”