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Micromanage your way to agency failure

Agency owners often micromanage their employees without even realizing it. They think that they are merely seeking better results, when in fact, they are slowing things down and demoralizing their teams.

When Chip and Gini speak with many owners, they express frustration with how many hours they work and how they can’t spend enough time on building the business because they are so deeply in the weeds.

The reality is that leaders need to trust their team members to do a good job — and then support them in that effort. Constant editing and fussing over the details adds little value.

Chip and Gini offer tips on how to break the cycle of micromanagement and empower your team to produce the best results possible.

Key takeaways

  • Gini Dietrich: “Why have you hired experts to do this job for you if you’re not going to let them do the job?”
  • Chip Griffin: “You want to take time off. You want to get work off of your plate. You know what is the best way to do that? Take a week off and get work off your plate.”
  • Gini Dietrich: “Why is my churn so high? Why are people leaving? It’s because you’re micromanaging them.”
  • Chip Griffin: “What does perfect get you?”


The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

Chip Griffin: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich: And I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin: And Gini I’ve gotta go over how you keep track of the topics that you would like to discuss on this show. We’re gonna need to go through step by step what I need you to do, and I’m gonna watch you while you do it to make sure you do it correctly.

Gini Dietrich: Great. Can’t wait.

Chip Griffin: Right after this.

So see, I just don’t think that keeping topic ideas on a post-it note makes sense. I think we’ve got a shared Google Doc that that is a, the appropriate place for this. And you know, I don’t care whether the job gets done well, I don’t care whether you’ve got good ideas for topics and you can use the Post-It to remind – you need to do it my way, exactly my way, otherwise I’m gonna be unhappy.

Gini Dietrich: I really wanna flip you off right now, but I’m going to try to think of an appropriate response that’s not that,

Chip Griffin: well now, you know, if you’re listening, how your employees feel when you do this to them. Mm-hmm. And you micromanage them. Mm-hmm. Which is the topic for today’s show, because we know that, that most of you will profess not to be micromanagers and you say, I don’t wanna micromanage my team.

And yet I think it’s fair to say that, that Gini and I consistently see you guys micromanaging your teams.

Gini Dietrich: Absolutely, yes. 100%. And it’s in the form of things like, oh, well this document needs a second set of eyes, and then you rewrite the whole thing. Or I don’t really trust that person to go to the meeting by themselves, so I’m gonna go too.

But they can take, they can lead the meeting and I’ll just, Sit in the background, but then you don’t actually sit in the background. You take over the meeting. It’s, and it, and we see this happen time and time and time again. And then when we see it happen and people, people start to leave, employees start to leave, everybody gets upset.

Agency owners are upset. Why is my churn so high? Why are people leaving? It’s because you’re micromanaging them and people don’t like to be micromanaged at all.

Chip Griffin: They don’t like to be micromanaged, and it doesn’t get you the results that you think it’s getting you. Right. Right. It it, what it’s causing is extra work to be done, which is causing you stress as the agency owner.

It’s also eating into your profit margin, because you’ve got two people doing the same piece of work. And if you’re going to rewrite what they did, why don’t you just write it in the first place? Right?

Gini Dietrich: Right. And it creates a bottleneck. So now everything’s having to go through you before it can go to the client and suddenly you’re a bottleneck where it’s, it’s not working. So everything’s feeding up through you if you’re gonna be revising everything anyway, to your point, why don’t you just write it to begin with? And everybody’s frustrated. Like I, I had a conversation with somebody two weeks ago and she said, I never provide my best draft, my best work ever, because I know my boss is going to rewrite it.

Correct. And I was like, If that is not the epitome of – and that’s, that’s what her boss has trained her to do. Because in the beginning she gave her very best work and the boss rewrote it. Well, now she knows the boss is going to rewrite it, so she just puts stuff on paper and gives her a draft with something to react to, which is astonishing.

But that’s not the employee’s fault, it’s the agency owner’s fault.

Chip Griffin: Right. And, and if you, as the agency owner, don’t believe that that’s happening, think about some of your clients. Think about the clients that you’ve had that do the same thing where they rewrite everything. Don’t you kind of phone it in at some point once this has happened over and over again. I would be shocked if you didn’t.

Yeah, I, I, I know I have, I know when I’ve had clients that Sure. Are just gonna, you know, do their own thing anyway. I send them enough that they can get started with whatever they’re gonna do. Yep. Eventually Anyway. Well, why, why are we all wasting our time? Yeah, and I, it reminds me of the old Seinfeld episode where Kramer is pretending to be Moviefone, and so, oh, yeah, yeah, this is my favorite.

You know, if you wanna watch movie A hit one. If you wanna watch movie B, hit two and person’s not even hitting any buttons. See, why don’t you just tell me what movie you wanna watch? It’s the same thing. Yeah. Don’t be that person.

Gini Dietrich: It also really makes you feel like, I mean, from a client agency perspective, this, it makes me feel like…

why have you hired experts to do this job for you if you’re not going to let us do the job? And that’s how it makes me feel. So the same thing. If you’ve hired employees who are good at their jobs and clearly they’re good at – you thought they are good enough to be able to do the job, but you continue to do the work over them, they’re not motivated to stay.

They’re not motivated to do great work. They’re gonna phone it in because that’s human nature.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. And, and none of this is to say that you should just, you know, cart blanche, completely trust everybody. Let them just kind of go off and do their own thing. You do need to provide guidance. You do need to provide oversight.

For sure. It makes sense for somebody to look at a draft piece of writing before it goes to a client or a publisher or whomever. Someone should look at it. But you also need to, if it’s you, you need to look at it and say, Is this at absolutely necessary? Right? And I think I’ve mentioned this on the show before when I used to train baseball umpires.

One of the things that we would always talk about is if you are going to step in and help your partner make a call, it needs to be because it’s absolutely necessary. It’s a game saving kind of opportunity for you to make sure that the guy who was, you know, safe by three feet, because you know the ball was dropped, that you know, you saw the ball drop and your partner didn’t find, let them know that that’s important.

If it’s, yeah. You know, maybe he beat it, maybe he didn’t, you know, I might have called him out or safe and you called it the other way, who cares? You need to make sure that whatever you’re doing, if you’re editing, if you’re providing feedback on a plan, that it’s absolutely necessary to ensure that the results are what they need to be.

That’s right. If it’s, if it’s already good enough or if it’s a close call, let it go.

Gini Dietrich: Yes. I actually, I say this internally with my team all the time. I’m like, we cannot. And there are many perfectionists on my team, including myself. We cannot let perfection get in the way of getting things done. And I have one person on my team who is always like, but it’s not perfect.

And I’m like, it’s okay. We have to get it out.

Chip Griffin: What does perfect get you?

Gini Dietrich: Right. It gets like you’re just gonna be frustrated in the end. So I think that’s, you know, I that I see a lot of that. I see a lot of among agency owners strive for perfection. Not willing to give up control and needing to have their hands and everything.

And the problem with that is not only are you chasing away good employees or making them, just not just phone it in to your point, but you’re also creating more work for yourself. So all of this talk about, I’m working a hundred hours a week and I don’t know how to get out of it, and I’m not paying myself enough money.

This is why, this is why that’s happening.

Chip Griffin: Yeah, and I mean, I, I always told my employees, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. And that doesn’t mean that you should be sloppy, and it doesn’t mean that you should, you know, send rubbish off to clients. But it doesn’t have to be just so, no, because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter.

It’s not going to make a difference. That’s right. And when I’m talking with an agency owner and they tell me as you’ve just outlined, you know, I’m working a hundred hours a week, I, I, I can’t figure out, you know, how to, to get more time to work on the business. You need to let go. Yeah. And, and you need to trust the team that you’ve put in place, whether that’s contractors, employees, whatever.

You need to trust them to get the job done. And if you don’t trust them, replace them. The solution to an employee that you don’t trust is not that you micromanage them, it’s that you get rid of them. Right. Or you change your mindset. Right. Right. But if it, if you, if you’ve tried changing your mindset and you still can’t trust them, they need to go.

Yes, yes. You’re not a charity.

Gini Dietrich: Yes. You’re not a charity is right. Yes. So one of the things that I like to do is certainly with a second set of eyes, you know, make sure there’s no typos and grammatical errors for sure. But I always look at stuff when I go, okay, does this hit the strategic goal that we had?

And does it, will it get us results? And if those two things are yes, then I’m like, great, go for it. But I also have empowered my team. I don’t want to be the bottleneck. Like we have a situation right now where we have a client who wants my eyes on everything, and I’m a huge bottleneck. So I finally said to them, either we’re gonna be delayed and we’re not gonna get these things to you on time, or you can trust that I trust my team.

And it’s really good work because I’m not making any changes to the stuff they’re sending in you. I’m just doing it because you’ve asked me to. But that’s creating a bottleneck. So I’ve had to, to sort of coach the, the client out of me having to have eyes on everything because my team is perfectly capable of doing that work.

And I think that that’s where you have to get, and as a recovering. Micromanager not able to give up control leader, not even leader manager. I can tell you how hard it is, and I know how hard it is, but you have to get to the point, to your point, Chip, that you trust the team that you’ve hired, whether there are employees or contractors, and that they, you’ve hired them because they can do the job.

Now, you might be training them in the way that you do things and in your process, but to rewrite a blog post or a white paper or to rewrite social media messages because you don’t like the way they’re written, stop doing that. You have to stop doing that.

Chip Griffin: Well, and and I think one of the steps that you can take is instead of rewriting it, Give them feedback.

Yes, for sure. Because that does two things. First of all, that is now putting the ball back in the employee’s court, right, so that they feel like they still have ownership over it. You’re helping to educate them about your thought process typically. Behind whatever change you may want made to the, the piece or the plan or whatever.

And that is much more meaningful than getting back even a tracked changes version in Word where you’ve got all the red all over the place Yep. And the green here. Yep. And lines and all that kind. Explain to them what you would like to see improved. But I think the other thing you need to do is, is don’t focus so much on improvement.

You need to let them know where it has fallen short, and that should be your standard. So it’s not where you can make it better. Or help it do a better job of, of achieving the results that you’re trying to, to get. But instead, is this actually a problem? Is does this create a reputational risk? Does it mean that the project might fail?

You know what, if it’s not of the level of a red flag, you probably should just be ignoring it.

Gini Dietrich: Right? Yeah. I, I do a lot of that because we’re doing crisis. We do a lot of crisis work and we have situations where just people on my team who haven’t, don’t have the same level of crisis experience will make mistakes that you’re like, nah, you can’t do that.

And then explain why. Like, if, if you do this, then this is what’s going to happen. If you do this, then this is what will happen. So you, like, we spend a lot of time teach, teaching the younger professionals those kinds of things. But we almost never change, rewrite or revise things. Almost never.

Chip Griffin: Yeah.

And, and I mean, frequently I will have my agency owner, clients, they’ll share documents with me for my feedback in my current role. And, and what I did a few years ago was I would just, I would, you know, edit them, but now I’ve taken to just leaving comments in the documents. Yep. I love that. And so by attaching a comment saying, you know, I would do this differently, here’s why.

Yep. And, and by putting it in more of a narrative form, Is it requiring them to do a little bit more work once they get it back? Absolutely. Yes. Yes, of course. But it’s also helping them understand the reasoning. Whereas if I send something that’s just been completely edited, they may not know the rationale right behind all of it.

Right. And, and even if I flag it with comments to explain my edits, most people just go in there and once they see that it’s been fully edited, they just said Accept all and like accepted done, it’s not on my plate now. Yep. Yep. And so they’re not having the opportunity to internalize it. So if you are providing that narrative style feedback, Instead of blow by blow changes, that will help quite a bit.

But it’s not just, I mean, we focused a lot on, on editing, but micromanagement takes other forms too. And so, you know, part of it is insisting that you be in the loop on every single thing that someone is doing for a client. Right. You do not need to be copied on every single email that is going to a client, even if you are the lead.

No. Which as an owner, you should try to avoid being the actual lead. But you don’t need to see every email. No. You don’t need to have every single step documented in Asana, Click up whatever tool that’s being used. Right. You, if you create so much bureaucracy so that you have vision into something, even if you’re not directly touching it, that’s still micromanagement.

Gini Dietrich: Right.

Yeah. And you know, from my perspective, as long as the job’s getting done, as long as I don’t have to worry about, oh, did that get done? Or was that scheduled? Or like, sure. Do your thing. I don’t need to know. When we have a, it’s, we have a problem when it doesn’t get done or a deadline is missed or something like that, then we have a problem.

But like, I don’t need to know. I don’t need to know all the minutiae. And I will tell you, I am a recovering person on this kind of stuff because I very much used to be.

Chip Griffin: I think most owners are. Yeah. I mean, I, I know it was a habit of mine. I, I would get right into the weeds. Yeah. It’s, and it drove people who worked for me nuts.

Gini Dietrich: Nuts. It drives you nuts. And when you, it, it’s almost like you need to have the experience of being micromanaged to understand Oh. Wow. I do this and it’s re that’s really bad. But we’re, what we’re trying to do is save you that step and help you understand that when you do this to people, they, they’re not going to perform at their best because they know you’re just going to redo it.

And they are exactly what you said earlier. Going to phone it in every time.

Chip Griffin: And, and if you need to have steps in place to make sure that things aren’t getting missed, that’s fine. Document a process, put together a checklist. I love those things. Yep. But what I would also tell you is don’t do it yourself.

Right. Ask the team member to take the first cut at it. You can then give feedback and say, well, what about this or that step? Did we overlook this? Yep, that’s fine. But I, I was working with an agency owner recently who was building out the process themselves, and that is not to me the most helpful way of doing it.

The most helpful way is perhaps say, this is kind of roughly what I want it to look like. Here’s a model, let’s build it out. But have the employee be the one that’s driving that. First of all, there are likely to be things that you didn’t think about. Because hopefully you’re not doing every bit of it day to day anymore.

Right, right, right, right. So they may, they may capture things that you would’ve missed, but you still have that opportunity to provide feedback if they have overlooked something. But now, instead of it being, you know, big brother coming in and saying, this is how you have to do it, you’ve worked collaboratively to come up with a process to make sure that things don’t fall through the cracks and you get the best results possible.

So come up with ways to, to address the concerns that you have that are not simply you looking over everybody’s shoulder all the time.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, absolutely. And the other thing that I really like to do, and this drives my team crazy, but it works is ask them what they think. So when they come to me with problems, I always say, what do you think?

And I do this to clients too, drives them crazy like clients that their role is a communications person, not, not the CEO, but you know, a marketing person. I will say, well, what do you think? And you know, sometimes I’ll get, well, I don’t know, that’s why I’m asking you, but other times I’ll get, well, I think we should do this, this, and this.

And then you have a conversation about, you know, per to your, what you said earlier, here are some things you should, might have missed, or here are some things you should think about. You have that kind of conversation where they’re learning versus you just giving them the advice and them running away with it.

Right. And I, you know, I, I have several agency owner clients who are like, I know what you’re gonna ask me and I don’t know what I think. That’s why I’m asking you. So then I kind of push back a little bit and say, okay, well let’s talk about, about what this is and what the options are. But what it does…

it, it, first of all, it takes you out of the, the micromanager position, but it also builds the confidence for the other person. Because now they’re sta they’re saying, okay, actually, she likes the way I think and she wants me to think about these things. Now they start to come to you with solutions instead of problems.

And they say, okay, here’s, here’s the problem, and here are three things we thought we could do to solve it. Great, let’s talk about those things. So even though I do get pushback, big time from team, from my clients, from my team, from everybody who’s like, if I knew the answer, I wouldn’t be asking you. But it really does, that one question changes everything. It changes the dynamic, it changes the conversation, it changes the culture, and it changes the confidence.

Chip Griffin: Yeah, no, I, I love that and, and I think anytime that you can empower the team member, it’s going to be helpful. If you’ve already had a culture where you just give the answers when someone comes to you, it’s gonna take time.

Yep, yep. To, to build them up and get them to this spot. Because at first they may think this is a trap. This is a trap. What? Right, right. Yes. What am I missing here? And so, you know, you’re going to have to, you, you may even have to say, look, I’m taking a different approach now. I listened to the brilliant Chip and Gini podcast and decided that this is, this is the new way to do it, so that’s what I’m going to do.

In fact, I always tell my clients, feel free to blame me for anything. You know, you want to come up with a new process. My idiot coach told me that this is what I should do. Fine. I don’t care. I’m happy to be the bad guy. Pick on, pick on someone who’s not in the room. It’s all, it’s all fine. But you need to be in that position where you’re encouraging them because they, in all likelihood, they have an idea of what they would do differently. Right. If they don’t, that’s a problem in and of itself. And, and probably something that just like trust may need to be addressed by changing who you have on your team. Because if they, if they are not capable of coming to you with even the remotest idea of a solution That’s right.

That is a problem because they should be able to do that. And so you need to be encouraging that kind of behavior. And what I always told my team members was, look, I don’t care if you screw up. I expect them, I expect there to be mistakes. I just expect that we learn from them. Yep. And so I want you to come to me and say, okay, well this is how we would do it differently so that the same thing doesn’t happen the same way again.

Because that kind of thing just drives me bonkers. For sure. If, if you cannot find a different way of doing it, you may end up still having a problem. Fine. You know, we’ll keep working on it until we come up with a better approach. But you need to empower your team to do that. And, and one suggestion, if they are reticent to come up with An idea.

They just say, I, I don’t, I just, I really don’t know. That’s why I’m asking you. My suggestion would be to say to them, what would you do if I wasn’t here? Love it. If, if I wasn’t here today or this week, or, you know, pick whatever timeframe’s appropriate to force them into a decision, what would they, how would they solve it?

And so that can often, Help them to figure out, oh, okay, this, well, this is what I would’ve done if I had, because they would do something. Presumably they wouldn’t just sit there and watch the whole house burn down. Right, right, right, right. Yes. Presumably they would do something. Yes. And so that can be a good way to, to shake something loose.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. And, and the last thing I will say on this is when you start to do this, it’s incredibly challenging for you. Sure. Because you’re accustomed to giving advice and you’re accustomed to telling them what to do. And so it’s a big shift for you as well. And you have to make a concerted effort. So like we talked about a few weeks ago, where you have a post-it note on your computer screen that says, what do you need from me? So that you’re always asking your team what they need from you. Same thing here. Remember to always ask, what do you think? And it, it’s a habit you have to create. So it’s going to, it’s not something that just will magically happen overnight.

You have to do it over and over and over again for six to eight weeks consistently before it becomes sort of part of your routine. And even still then it, there will be times where you’re just like, start to blurt out the answer or the feedback or the advice, and you have to stop. You’ll have to actually stop yourself and say, what do you think?

Chip Griffin: And, and, and here’s another suggestion. If, if you find yourself in this position, and you’re not quite sure how to really accelerate this separation for micromanagement and really to get your team to take ownership and responsibility, my suggestion is that you do what most of you are telling me that you want to be able to do anyway.

Take a week off and fully disconnect. Love it. Just, I mean, just go away. Yep. Love it. Or, or don’t and j but just unplug your computer for a week. Yep. Love it. Ignore your email completely. Yep. And when you come back a week later and everybody’s still functioning and the business hasn’t disappeared, you will have more confidence and your team will have more confidence.

You’re gonna be anxious that week. So if you’re a wine drinker, I would stock up on a case or two before that week starts.

Gini Dietrich: A case or two.

Chip Griffin: I dunno, maybe more. You know, it’s, it’s a week and it’s, you know, for a, for a lot of you, if micromanagement is your habit, you’re going to have a very difficult time letting go.

But I, I cannot think of a scenario in which your whole thing is going to evaporate in a week’s time. Right. And that’s right. Presumably you’ve got at least somebody minding the ship who will, will pick up the phone when they see that the agency is on fire and let you know that that’s happening. So, you know, give ’em some phone number to call if that does happen. It’s not gonna happen though. It’s not gonna happen. It, it just doesn’t, right? You are not nearly as important to your agency as you think you are. You’re not.

Gini Dietrich: And once you figure that out and trust your team to do their jobs, your life gets immensely easier.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. And by the way, even as a solo, you can still take a week off.

Yeah, I, this is another one. Yeah. Cause I talk to a lot of solos. I can’t, I can’t take a week off because No, I don’t have someone to cover my client. You know what? You call up the client and you tell ’em I’m taking a week off. That’s right. See ya. That’s exactly right. And you know what? There’s not a client in the world as long as you don’t pick the week that they’ve got some big event going on or something like that.

Or Right. Do it in the middle of a crisis or whatever. The kind of work is you, unless you do something foolish like that. It’s all going to be okay. They may complain and moan a little bit. Clients do that, just reassure them. And guess what? It’s only five business days. If you have clients who truly cannot live without you for five business days, you need to charge a whole lot more than what you’re charging now.

Yes, a whole lot more. Yes.

Gini Dietrich: So yeah, that’s great advice, take a week. Take a week off. Stop micromanaging. It’s making your team crazy.

Chip Griffin: Right. I mean, you want to take time off. You want to get work off of your plate. You know what the best way to do that? Take a week off and get work off your plate. I love it.

If you do those two things, those two things will actually happen.

Gini Dietrich: I love it. That’s great advice. Take a week off.

Chip Griffin: We are the masters of the obvious, if nothing else, but hopefully we’ve convinced you to stop being a micromanager or at least be less of a micromanager than you are today. I will, I will take baby steps here.

Gini Dietrich: I will too. Do it please.

Chip Griffin: Because you don’t want us to come in and have to micromanage you and and tell you exactly what you’re doing wrong. As the agency owner,

Gini Dietrich: I’ll just come in and ask what you think over and over and over again. What do you think?

Chip Griffin: Well, fortunately, now we know what you think, Gini. So that will draw to an end this episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich: I’m Gini Dietrich,

Chip Griffin: and it depends.

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The Hosts

Chip Griffin is the founder of the Small Agency Growth Alliance (SAGA) where he helps PR & marketing agency owners build the businesses that they want to own. He brings more than two decades of experience as an agency executive and entrepreneur to share the wisdom of his success and lessons of his failures. Follow him on Twitter at @ChipGriffin.


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, the lead blogger at Spin Sucks, and the host of Spin Sucks the podcast. She also is co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Follow her on Twitter at @GiniDietrich.

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