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THE QUESTION

Two of my direct reports, who are good friends, have complained to my director that I’m micromanaging them. I’ve met with each of them separately to understand their concerns and address them by letting them take more ownership of their work. But I feel like a switch has flipped and they’re now very hostile toward me and unco-operative during meetings.

My director tells me that she’s on my side but I think she’s being too soft and is letting them do as they please. This is causing me a lot of stress and drawing attention away from my work. What should I do?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Jocelyn Chang, founder and CEO, Imagine Better Solutions, Vancouver

Micromanagement complaints from direct reports tend to be challenging for direct managers to address effectively without helpful coaching from an experienced talent manager. This is largely because these complaints tend to spur from a work relationship that is rigid, distant and exclusively top-down in power dynamics. The “do as you are told” mentality of leadership tends to fuel dissent in workplaces where colleagues can be good friends.

Every manager is different in how comfortable they are in facilitating vulnerable conversations. Based on the hostility that is increasing, one can deduce that the initial conversations with the employees did not land on a solution that was proposed or supported by the employee. When you are hoping to correct the relationship from this angle, you need to invite in the voices of those who are unhappy in order to get on the same page about what is making them unhappy.

I would recommend that you engage in another one-on-one with each direct report that has complained and address the elephant in the room. I’d also recommend having a facilitator from HR if you are not experienced in amicable confrontations. In these conversations, you want to build a new road map to working together effectively.

Start by understanding “who” you are managing – you can do this by asking your employees how they’d like to be managed. This includes exploring how they like to be directed, corrected and motivated in your work relationship.

Next, you will need to clearly understand “what” it is that you are doing specifically that is causing them to feel micromanaged. Dig a little deeper, quiet your inner perfectionist and welcome their input with a question like: “if we had a do-over for that situation, how would you prefer I approach you when I saw issues?” End off with: “You are an important part of the team and I will work on becoming the manager that you need. I welcome your support and feedback as I try something different in managing our work relationship.”

THE SECOND ANSWER

Shauna Vassell, leadership coach, Koncave Coaching, Toronto

Kudos for being self-aware. I can imagine how stressful this situation is for you and its effect on your work.

There are three layers to this question: 1) your relationship with your boss 2) your team and 3) your mental health. Before thinking of solutions, ask yourself: What am I missing? Is there another way? What is the culture I want to create? And what is the final outcome that I am looking for?

Escalations can be hard to navigate, therefore, it’s important to define the relationship you want with your director and get on the same page regarding expectations, the approach and next steps. What are the facts around the team? Have you restricted their scope of work in the past? If so, why? “Letting them” sounds like a lack of trust and may be perceived as such. During the meetings, did you address what they wanted instead of what they needed?

Building a team is about connecting to their personal motivators. If there are performance issues, then set the expectations and provide growth opportunities. If it isn’t a performance issue, then is it more about you and less about them? Look for your potential blind spots. Have an open and transparent conversation about the issues, impacts and outcomes you would like to see. Listen for feedback and take your emotions out of it. The goal is to use the feedback to move the conversation forward. Find ways to reduce the stress so you can have more clarity. Coming from an emotional place can lead you to make decisions that are out of alignment with your values.

Have a question for our experts? Send an e-mail to NineToFive@globeandmail.com with ‘Nine to Five’ in the subject line. Emails without the correct subject line may not be answered.

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