From micromanagement to shared management
by Terry Goss
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You perform at your best when you balance the micro and macro focuses of your practice. Your team performs best in an authentic environment where they can be their best selves and are encouraged to grow, develop, and learn. Comprehensive-care practices require that many elements work in harmony. Your ability to focus on excellent dentistry and exceptional patient service depends on your style of management.
How does your management report card look? Do you regularly employ effective delegation, team empowerment. and self-management skills? Can you relax and perform at your best, increasing your job satisfaction? Or are you anxious, pressured, and obsessive about daily details? Do you feel you've shouldered too many responsibilities, just to make sure things get done? If so, you've tumbled into a common managerial pitfall: micromanagement.
Micromanagement means exercising excessive control over projects or groups to the point of making or presiding over every decision, however minor. Micromanagers often, counterproductively, overstep team boundaries.
Their intended goal is to get the job done right, but the unintended impact is often loss of team harmony, productivity, and efficiency, with increased stress for everyone.
In severe cases, micromanaged team members feel unfairly criticized and defensively wait to be told what to do. Triangulation runs rampant, hand-offs become weak or non-existent, huddles are uninspired, and the practice drifts into a state of unhappy resignation.
Micromanagement isn't universally negative. It can be a positive approach for training new employees and new systems. In the wrong situation, however, it severely limits your team's ability to properly perform.
Shared management, the healthy, balanced alternative, requires a working philosophy of empowerment and shared responsibility. Properly instituted, it can increase efficiency, reduce stress, improve morale, and maximize practice profitability.
Avoid the micromanagement default
The pressures to micromanage are myriad. Emergencies may push you into adopting another team member's responsibilities, or a lapse of trust can thrust frustrated managers into a default “I'll do it myself” mode. Over-functioning is a response to negative emotions and distress in relationships and organizations.
But defaulting to counterproductive micromanagement produces a negative domino effect. When a manager chronically overfunctions, team members learn to under-function. In response to criticism and rescinded responsibility, people withdraw, distancing themselves from the situation, creating a vacuum of responsible decision-making where the manager feels compelled to take over, drawing the office deeper into this destructive cycle.
Consider the real-world example of Catherine, a new dental assistant whose 30-day performance review reflected her growing confidence and contribution to the practice. Soon, however, the dentist perceived a decrease in her commitment and professional growth. He felt she should be more self-directed. To avoid conflict, he increasingly overcompensated for her, hoping to indicate to Catherine that she was missing the mark.
Catherine sensed the dentist's growing impatience. “He started to sigh a lot. He'd make cutting comments about steps being out of order. To avoid conflict, I let him do what he wanted. Eventually, he snatched an instrument right out of my hand.” In this case, lack of communication and unclear expectations led to feelings of disconnection and conflict. Both individuals attempted to avoid uncomfortable emotions by adopting default behaviors, while training devolved into stoic withdrawal.
Under pressure, “If you want it done right, do it yourself” can seem like the right approach. After all, things should be done properly. And someone has to cover the details. Yet, if it's always the same person, that person ends up stressed and aggravated, the team's skills go unused, and the productivity — and happiness — of the entire practice suffers.
Shared management model
Shared management is inclusive — a powerful alternative to micromanagement — merging attention to important details with an efficient, empowered team approach. For the greatest success, here are this model's components:
• Develop shared goals — An authentic practice understands that people support what they help to envision and create. To build a healthy, successful workplace, leaders need the wisdom to set compelling team goals. Don't cling to old, top-down approaches. Spend quality time now to save time later. Shared goals inspire teamwork, setting the stage for effective delegation and shared responsibilities. (Our article, “The Magic of Monitors,” demonstrates how to define and set compelling goals to enhance patient/team interactions. Read and/or download it at our Web site, www.TerryGossAssoc.com.)
• Establish and agree upon clear standards — Specific guidelines and cooperatively developed standards are essential to good decision-making. Define fundamental goals and expectations so everyone knows what matters the most. Cooperation and clear communication give everyone a voice and a stake in the outcome.
• Develop accountable action plans — Become action-oriented. Who will do what by when to transform your plans into reality? Wish lists become achievable “To Do” lists. Encourage team brainstorming, development, and enactment of accountable action plans that balance strengths, challenges, and opportunities for growth.
• Train smarter, not harder — No two people are alike. Match training methods to the individual. A well-planned training regimen with accountability checkpoints keeps your team moving toward its full potential. A well-trained, synergistic team takes initiative, addressing and resolving even complex and difficult practice problems, communication gaps, and patient issues.
• Use monitors to gauge progress — Operating without feedback is counterproductive. To increase efficiency, spark energy, and transform performance, use statistical monitors to track numeric and financial trends. Use relationship monitors to measure success in team/patient interactions. With feedback, you and your team can know instead of guessing.
• Debrief, course-correct, and celebrate group success — Regularly discuss project and practice progress. Maintain an authentic environment where everyone (including you) can be honest about work-related issues. Nonjudgmental accountability encourages self-correction and confidence when requesting and receiving help. Stay focused on shared success. Recognize individual achievement, taking special note of team accomplishments to keep everyone engaged and moving in the same direction.
Effective shared management environment
Effective shared management needs an environment of honesty, humility, and trust. Default behaviors and reactive coping mechanisms discourage communication with and respect for coworkers, obscuring successes and problems.
In a micromanaged environment, healthy feedback and interpersonal issues are swept under the rug, turning small frustrations into chronic headaches. Covering for someone or “doing it yourself” only creates the illusion of a solution. Honest communication creates flexible, long-term solutions that empower everyone.
Human beings need to grow. Personal, professional growth is exciting, stimulating, and rewarding. Team empowerment creates an environment that nurtures everyone's skills, optimizing their hidden talents.
In shared management, leaders are mentors, not generals. Team members can take key roles in the practice's growth, while you step back and coach. Encourage them to solve patient scenarios or evaluate marketing opportunities. The challenge increases confidence and commitment — theirs and yours.
The most important — and difficult — skill for managers is self-management. When you slip into destructive micromanaging behaviors, what factors or people were involved? If you could turn back time, what would you do differently?
As you and your team gain awareness of micromanagement and negative default behaviors, you'll grow confident about trading reactive behaviors for positive, choice-based behaviors, promoting a healthier, more productive, more rewarding work environment.
Does changing your governing philosophy sound daunting? Remember the enormous time and energy that micromanaging takes?That vigor is better used to inspire your team to take on more of the responsibility, accountability, and sense of accomplishment that have always been within their grasp.
Doctors we've helped to implement shared management are now happily “recovering micromanagers” who can normalize, neutralize, and understand workplace behaviors. Be honest about frustrations and proactive about sharing responsibilities and rewards; promote integrity and authenticity instead of an energy-sapping, low-trust environment.
Your best can be achieved only by trusting yourself and your team. The benefits of creating a team-empowered, authentic practice are well worth the effort you'll invest.
Terry Goss, BFA, is a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach and Master Practitioner of NLP. She has extensive training in advanced management and leadership development, behavioral psychology, and the new neuroscience. She is committed to uncovering unique talents in people and helping them reach peak performance. For more information, visit www.TerryGossAssoc.com.