Micromanagement can be an issue for even the most experienced leaders. Learn how this management style negatively affects progress and how the OKR framework can help the most rigid micromanagers learn to trust their teams.

Have you ever worked for someone who needs to exercise a lot of control? Not only over their own work — but everyone else’s work too?

As a leader, it can be difficult to ignore the urge to decide exactly what your team needs to do each quarter and define exactly how they’re going to do it. Maybe, in your mind, it seems more efficient to just state what needs to happen. Or, to you, it feels like it is your responsibility to decide your team’s Key Results for them so nothing falls through the cracks.

If you or someone you work with find it difficult to delegate, believe it or not, OKRs can help.

A common objection we hear is, “I need to know what’s going on, so I don’t lose track of everything.” Some leaders see detailed orientation as a demonstration of personal commitment to an organization, but as John Doerr says, “micromanagement is often mismanagement.” Leaders can’t — and don’t — do it all!

OKRs encourage communicating openly and frequently about what progress matters most. When used well, they serve to build trust between teams and their leaders.

Successfully delegating with OKRs

1. Don’t prescribe OKRs

The tendency to “over-manage” affects more than the quality of the work being produced — it can damage how a team embraces OKRs. When controlling leaders are too prescriptive in handing down OKRs to their teams, it doesn’t leave enough breathing room for input from individual contributors.

Cameron Koczon, founder of Fictive Kin and co-founder of Lager, calls a “command and control” leader who creates to-do list OKRs as ”the nefarious underbelly of OKRs”. Teams perform better when given the space to figure out how they’ll achieve their goals. A manager’s job is to set Objectives that guide — rather than dictate — actions.

2. Keep Key Results separate from work plans

OKRs are not to-do lists. They don’t exist so you can track every activity your team undertakes. OKRs are the top 2-3 priorities that your team is focusing on for the cycle. The Key Results you define help you gauge if you are making progress on the measures that matter.

Track tasks, activities, and work not explicitly listed in your OKRs separately. The environmentally-friendly shoemaker Allbirds tracks any tasks critical to keeping the business running in something they call the “Breathe List".

3. Meetings are for tracking progress, not activity

We recommend starting your team meetings with a quick OKR check-in. Use these to promote no-judgment accountability. If one person goes down the rabbit hole of listing activities, redirect them to discuss progress. If progress isn’t where you expect to be, make plans to hammer out a game plan to get the KR back on track. Then swiftly move to the next OKR.

4. Report progress frequently

Don’t wait for the end of the cycle to report on progress — that’s too late. In work, and in life, things rarely go perfectly or according to plan. OKRs are an early detection system and should inform your day-to-day actions. They tell you immediately where you need to focus your attention, so you have the best chance of achieving goals.

Putting It Into Practice

Leaders want results. But tightening control on teams rarely works in the long-run, and it doesn’t scale. Consider using OKRs to help ease up on the reins.

Instead of trying to track everything all the time — which is overwhelming and inefficient — OKRs allow you to focus on leading: providing direction and the waypoints. OKRs act as an early warning sign for where more attention is needed, and which Key Results to hone in on.

Recovering micromanagers have shared with us that knowing that their team’s goals are transparent and clearly articulated gives them peace of mind. Weekly team check-ins and deeper dives in 1:1 meetings help them let go, even relax, safe in the knowledge that progress is and will be made.

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