May 27, 2018

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How to Empower Employees

2 out of 5 employees say they don't have the decision-making authority they need.


Employees feel micro-managed, so it is no wonder that 2 out of 5 employees feel that they don't have the decision-making authority that they need to do their jobs well. Here are some common complaints about micro-management that I here frequently from employees:

"They won't allow me to make even the simplest decisions."

"The red tape here makes it very difficult for me to do my job."

"Management has to sign off on everything; they don't trust me."

A culture of micro-management often leads to a slow-moving work force that is minimally productive, lacks self-motivation, and is unable to take prudent business risks or make innovative changes.

The problem of micro-management has several origins:

  1. Top Down Mirroring

    The CEO or President micro-manages his or her direct staff. The staff then unconsciously adopts the same management style with their direct reports. The practice spreads, or "mirrors" itself, throughout the organization and becomes part of the culture.

  2. Too Many Chiefs, Not Enough Indians

    Organizations with an abundance of middle managers often suffer from micro-management. To justify their existence, these managers feel that they need to make all of the decisions for their employees.

  3. Externally-Imposed Paranoia Highly regulated industries, such as food and pharmaceutical manufacturing and nuclear power generation plants, frequently suffer from micro-management. Employees are given very little latitude to deviate from standard operating procedures. The unfortunate result is that these employees are not given the opportunity to think for themselves, even when such thinking is critically important.

  4. Fear In today's difficult economy, managers live in perpetual fear that their department better produce or else. This fear drives them to micro-manage, rather than trust their employees to make the appropriate decisions.

  5. Poor Hiring Decisions Many organizations do not make it a priority to select employees who are capable of thinking on their own. The organization is then compelled to micro-manage them.

  6. The False Belief that Power is Finite Managers are often under the mistaken impression that there is a finite amount of power in the organization and it is their job to amass as much of it as possible. They therefore do not allow their employees to make decisions by themselves because that would be giving up their own power. Nothing could be further from the truth. The more management allows employees to make decisions for themselves, the more powerful the entire organization will be.


Successfully tying pay to job performance is possible but very difficult to accomplish. Here are a few principles that can help.

  1. Start at the Top

    Hire an executive coach to help the CEO learn to trust and delegate to subordinates. Managers will then likely follow suit with their own direct reports.

  2. Ask Employees

    Use focus groups and individual interviews to learn from employees what decision-making authority they feel they need to do their jobs well. Then communicate this information to their supervisors.

  3. Put Yourself in Their Shoes It is very easy for managers to lose perspective about what decisions their employees really need to make by themselves. Managers should ask themselves, what decisions would I need to make if I were doing that job?

  4. Train Managers Delegating, letting go, and trusting employees are all skills that can be taught. During the training, those few managers that ARE doing a good job of delegating should be asked to share their "best practices" with other managers in the organization.

  5. Be Willing to Change Managers often know in their hearts that they are micro managing, but are unable to change old habits. Good managers are willing to try new approaches and take risks.

In summary, the lack of decision-making authority afforded employees is a pervasive organizational problem. Micro-management is the culprit. Reducing the tyranny of micro-management requires management to recognize the problem and proactively address it.

- Bruce L. Katcher

Bruce Katcher, PhD is President of Discovery Surveys, Inc. His firm conducts customized employee opinion and customer satisfaction surveys. Learn more at He can be reached at or 888-784-4367.