Communication and Micromanagement

It’s been over an hour and still no word…The patrol stepped off with everything they needed having been fully briefed on the plan. Still there is nothing coming over the radio. Did they get lost? Did they fail to understand the orders? Were they able to make contact? Should you intercede and find out why there are no reports back?

When a unit is out past the wire you sit and wait in the Command Operations Center (COC) until the radios come alive and bring back the updates on what is happening on the front lines. The COC is typically a small room or tent full of data. It is filled with radios, computers, maps and overlays but without the lifeline of direct communication from the patrol you are blind, and that can be nerve-racking. Not physically being on the front line and/or getting information slowly or not at all often brings out the worst in a good manager. Supervisors who are used to being up there are instinctively drawn back to it to ensure that they feel they are abreast of everything that is going on. Unfortunately, this pulls them away from the necessary strategic planning that they should be focused on. Time spent in the COC can make mere minutes seem like hours while awaiting fresh communication to help draw out the picture of what is happening. Information comes much too slowly, unless you have invested the time as a leader to outline how, when and why your front line teams should maintain contact with you, and then train them to meet that standard.

Have your company’s managers spent enough time deciphering how they want their organization to work or are they spending their time chasing that information down? Leaders crave new data from their teams but without a plan they often find themselves staring blankly at an empty inbox. Those who stop their strategic view and become involved at a tactical level nearly guarantee themselves a frustrating ride. Not having a communication plan sets your teams up to be micromanaged and will strip them of their initiative. Ultimately this creates an environment where employees learn to sit and wait until they are directly asked before they pass along information. Management did not intend to micromanage but the lack of a clear communication plan and the determination to see it through set them up for failure. They have taught their team to wait for direction rather than forcing them to push information out.

Breaking this cycle is easier than most people think. It only requires some determination and a little planning. People will respond to you the way you instruct them to, so, prior to launching a plan let’s look at a couple key elements:

1. What is the mission critical information that you want pushed to you every time?
2. How often do you expect to be updated, outside of emergency events?
3. Do you have the will power to let them come to you?

After taking a look at what data you need to know and outlining how often you expect to be briefed you have to learn to be comfortable waiting until your team is ready to brief you. Set goals and expectations first, without these you can’t hold people accountable. If you must go seeking information first hand and break your own rules take a minute to ask yourself if you need the update badly enough to strip your team of their initiative? If it’s not critical to know you had better think twice about picking up the phone or making a trip to the front.

Remember your troops in the trenches are busy with the actual battles. Your calls for more information only serve to distract and frustrate them. If you can’t stick to your own game plan you will only confuse and frustrate those around you.

For the front line folks, remember the best way to stick to the plan is to ensure that when you do communicate you are doing so as clearly as possible. Draw a word picture with your reports, answer the 5 W’s and before your hit send, proof read your work and ask yourself what questions will your report draw? Did you provide context so your thoughts are properly understood and most importantly does your work make clear what happens next. You have a chance to set expectations and timetables when you’re pushing the information. Doing this right allows the folks in the tent back at headquarters to remain confident that the job is getting done and stay focused on planning the bigger picture. And, most importantly keeps them from trying to do your job for you.

With the right plans, structure and communication your people will astound you with the results and ideas that they are able to produce. If you’ve found some stagnation in the way you communicate and are ready for some impressive growth it might be time to consider investing in your company’s leadership skills. Ensure you’re getting the most out of your teams by creating a heightened and clearer awareness of how you lead.

Dan Baldini