Dan Ruch knows a thing or two about micromanaging, because he finds himself doing it all the time.
One of his junior employees even requests it, he says. The person is always asking for feedback and praise, even for small achievements. Ruch – founder and CEO at Rocketrip, a company that aims to make business travel more cost-effective – would rather his employees make decisions on their own. But he also knows a good manager should adapt and respond to what each individual staff member needs.
“I can’t just say, ‘Stop coming in with all these questions,’ because that’s exactly what this employee needs,” Ruch says. “I may not be micromanaging him, but he’s micromanaging himself. It may be annoying sometimes, but in the end, it’s what he needs to do the best job he can.”
These days, there’s a common belief at companies that workers are better left alone once assigned a task. Even in an era where millennials especially are regarded as needing regular feedback, the boss who’s always asking how things are going can be accused of one of the harshest buzzwords in business: micromanaging.
“As an employee, you should be carefully structuring the face time you get and be proactive about what you need from your boss”
Sure, a boss who’s always meddling in small tasks that are the responsibility of others is likely lacking in trust, and should probably be backing off and thinking more about the big picture. But research and examples from legendary managers show many employees benefit from regular interaction with their boss. For those of us working at a company where feedback and check-ins are rare, that means behaving more like Ruch’s junior employee. After years of quietly pulling away from managers, it’s time to start demanding feedback.
“As an employee, you should be carefully structuring the face time you get and be proactive about what you need from your boss,” says Karin Hurt, a former Verizon Wireless executive. “Go in asking what you can do to add value to the business, and your manager is going to be glad to give you the time.”
That’s right: it’s time to start demanding to be micromanaged.
Perhaps you’re thinking that inviting this kind of feedback is just asking for trouble
Perhaps you’re thinking that inviting this kind of feedback is just asking for trouble. Not so, says Ron Ashkenas, emeritus partner at Schaffer Consulting, a management consultancy based in Connecticut. Ignore the inclination to believe that no news is good news, because it’s always better to find out what the boss doesn’t like about your performance, and fix it.
“People get nervous when they don’t hear from the boss,” Ashkenas says. “What people can’t handle is no feedback at all. All the fantasies start to evolve about how you’re failing at the job and possible reasons the boss isn’t communicating with you.”
You’re both missing a trick
Getting regular help from a boss has been linked to better performance, so talk to your manager more often. It’s common sense to think that we can all improve with feedback from the high-status people where we work, says Colin Fisher, who teaches leadership at University College London’s School of Management.
“There’s a belief we have that when a boss gets involved it’s a negative, that it’s micromanaging,” Fisher says. “There are many ways for a boss to get involved that are helpful.”
Regular interaction creates better relationships between you and your superior
Nowadays, many companies believe wrongly that employees do best when given instructions and then the freedom to complete tasks on their own, Fisher says. Worse, most people are too afraid to ask for help, and people in leadership fail to see that it’s fear that keeps people from seeking feedback.
But regular interaction creates better relationships between you and your superior. “Getting help when you need it is a sign of a healthy organisation and a healthy worker,” Fisher says.
Taking charge of the boss
How? Start by asking for facetime with your boss, says Hurt, now a management consultant. It’s your job to take charge of the relationship with your manager, she says.
When your yearly review includes little else than vague feedback about job performance, demand more. Ask what specifically you’re doing that’s impressive and which areas need improvement. “Come into those one-on-ones with your own agenda and be prepared,” Hurt says. “You have more power in that relationship than you think.
If you have a boss whose only feedback is negative, or simply doesn’t communicate much past yearly reviews, ask for regular time on their schedule, Ashkenas says. Whether that’s a daily, weekly, or monthly check in, the idea is that you’re getting regular feedback about how you’re doing.
Once that’s established, Hurt says you should aim to agree on goals. They shouldn’t be about your personal career objectives but what the company wants to see from you. “If you go to your boss and say, ‘I want this to be the best year possible, but I’m going to need your feedback to get there,’ what boss is going to say no?”
Avoiding ‘swoop and poop’
Part of Fisher’s research on the subject was a study of the global design and consulting firm IDEO. Fisher says the goal at IDEO is to avoid what he heard employees there call “swoop and poop,” where a boss bounds in and offers nothing but condemnation.
Instead, the company stresses helpful feedback and constructive ideas, says Duane Bray, a partner and global head of talent at IDEO’s New York City office. It’s part of a management culture that’s far different from most companies. With few managers, IDEO employees instead are encouraged to seek out regular feedback from coworkers. The idea is those who have “guided mastery” of the tasks at hand become mentors to those who need help, taking on the supervisory role that would normally be held by a manager.
With that regular feedback, employees figure out how to both accept analysis of their work and give it constructively to others, Bray says. Encouraging someone else with nudges in the right direction is a skill, something that most people learn by doing.
“It may be scary at first, but when you see yourself getting better because of it, you kind of lean into it,” Bray says.
The interactions you have with your manager don’t always have to be formal HR-style reviews or check-ins on daily tasks. Instead, they can and should focus on what’s to be accomplished. Hurt learned this early into her career at Verizon, nearly two decades ago. She had a boss that scheduled a regular Friday afternoon meeting to talk about new and novel ideas.
“During that time, he wasn’t my boss as much as he was my business partner”
Hurt and one of her coworkers would be expected to show up with game changing concepts, that is, ideas that could reinvent the industry or the way the company addressed challenges. Concerns about regular tasks or accomplishments would be shelved for another time. They’d put the new philosophy on a whiteboard and talk out the pros and cons of the company’s future with this new approach.
Afterward, when Hurt found herself with other bosses, she’d demand those same kind of brainstorming sessions, in addition to 10-minute weekly check-in sessions about the more mundane parts of the job. She found that those meetings created a far healthier relationship where she knew exactly what management expected of her, both in terms of daily tasks and long-range thinking.
“During that time, he wasn’t my boss as much as he was my business partner,” Hurt says. “He taught me to think one level higher.”
But to get there, for most people, it’s going to take actually seeking out feedback from a manager.
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