Security Experts:

How Not to Micromanage Talented Employees

While it can be a difficult, it is worth taking the time to avoid slipping into micromanagement

Some time ago (pre-pandemic), I was at a barbecue at someone’s house. While the host was grilling, I spent some time catching up with him next to the grill. During the time I was catching up with the host, someone came over a few times to give the host some pointers and direction. In my opinion, he was grilling just fine and didn’t need any advice, but I stayed quiet. After the first few visits, the pointers and direction turned into full-blown micromanagement.

At the time, I remember thinking that there is surely a security lesson that can be learned from this experience. While it has certainly taken me a while, I believe I’ve found one. It’s not a technical or operational lesson, but rather, a management one.

Having been an individual contributor for many years and having worked in very technical positions, I grew accustomed to taking on a problem or challenge, running with it, and solving or addressing it. I am certainly not unique in my ability to do so. I have worked with many other talented individuals over the years who are equally, if not even more, capable of doing so themselves.

Over my years as an individual contributor, I had a mix of different managers. Some of them were quite good, while others were mediocre at best. One was downright awful. As I recall, the managers that bothered me the most were those that constantly felt the need to micromanage everything.

When working for a micromanager, at first, there may be a tendency to take it personally. After a bit of time has passed, however, we may realize that, in fact, the micromanager uses the same approach on every employee, regardless of the ability of the employee to work autonomously.

Now, as a manager, I find that I am often conscious of the balance between providing direction and being overbearing. Good employees certainly don’t need or deserve micromanagement, and in fact, it can be quite detrimental to them. So why is micromanagement such a common occurrence? I’m not an expert, of course, though I suspect it stems from a combination of difficulty transitioning away from being the one who gets the work done and needing to take responsibility for work you can manage but cannot control.

To help others who may be in the same boat I am, I’ve compiled a few helpful tips for keeping micromanagement at bay. While certainly not an exhaustive list, it should prove helpful to those looking for and receptive to the input.

● Communicate the vision: If you’ve got hard working and talented employees working for you, communicate the vision to them. It will help them align their work to the direction you’re going, and it will give you the confidence and comfort that come when your employees are moving in the direction you want them to.

● Tell them what you want: Tell your team what you want them to do.  Don’t tell them how to do it. A good team will find the right solution given the circumstances and constraints. Micromanaging that process will impede their ability to arrive at the best possible answer.

● Provide guidance:  As your team begins executing your vision, keep an eye on the direction. Provide guidance to course correct or adjust as necessary.  Refrain from rolling up your sleeves, diving in, and beginning to steer from within.  Easier said than done, of course.

● Provide feedback: Don’t be afraid to provide constructive, professional feedback in an encouraging and polite manner. If you’ve done a good job hiring and you have a good team, they will not only require feedback, they will thrive on it. Good team members are always looking to be in sync with and heading in the same direction as the organization. Feedback is a critical part of their ability to do so.

● Take lessons learned: In any work project, some things will go well, while other things will not go so well. Improvement is always possible, and lessons learned are one way that improvement happens. During and after a project, take stock of where matters stand, and assess what did and did not work well.

● Improve processes: Don’t just take lessons learned - act on them. Use the valuable feedback gained throughout the process lifecycle to improve it and other processes. This will not only produce better outcomes in the future, but it will also leave your employees feeling more invested, having more ownership, and taking initiative to identify and address issues across other processes as well.

There is really nothing to be gained by micromanaging talented employees. While it can be a difficult transition from individual contributor to manager, it is worth taking the time to avoid slipping into micromanagement. You, your employees, and your organization all stand to gain from it.

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Joshua Goldfarb (Twitter: @ananalytical) is currently Director of Product Management at F5. Previously, Josh served as VP, CTO - Emerging Technologies at FireEye and as Chief Security Officer for nPulse Technologies until its acquisition by FireEye. Prior to joining nPulse, Josh worked as an independent consultant, applying his analytical methodology to help enterprises build and enhance their network traffic analysis, security operations, and incident response capabilities to improve their information security postures. He has consulted and advised numerous clients in both the public and private sectors at strategic and tactical levels. Earlier in his career, Josh served as the Chief of Analysis for the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) where he built from the ground up and subsequently ran the network, endpoint, and malware analysis/forensics capabilities for US-CERT.