Micro - Manage: to try to control or manage all the small parts of (something, such as an activity) in a way that is usually not wanted or that causes problems. (Merriam Webster Dictionary)
When I introduce the concept of Active Supervision one of the first objections I get from leadership at all levels is that it sounds like micro-management. This used to surprise me but having worked with so many groups I have come to understand where a lot of the confusion comes from. For some folks the confusion is founded on a genuine concern regarding not "hovering" over staff during the performance of a task. Others struggle with not wanting to communicate any sense of inadequacy to staff which is often a bi-product of micro-management. And by far the biggest issue faced by leaders is a level of discomfort with the whole issue of supervision in general. Which is to say that being uncertain about what good supervision looks like they back away from it lest they find themselves micro-managing.
These are normal reactions and are a reflection of the fact that people and in this case leaders, want to do a good job and care about their teams. They want to believe in their teams and their capacity to perform the work set before them and don't want to communicate any sense of a lack of confidence. Micro-management has a negative connotation and in trying to avoid being labeled a micro-manager most of us tend to err too far the other direction and supervision suffers as a result.
So lets look at what is fair game with regard to supervision. First and most importantly people want clear and consistent direction. Your job as a leader is to make sure that you understand the goals and objectives for your team and ensure that they know what those are and what they need to be doing to accomplish those goals. Often we tend to treat giving direction like the joke about the old married couple who when the wife complained that her husband never told her he loved her his response was "I told you I loved you when we got married and if that changes I will let you know." Providing direction is something that must be done regularly and consistently in order to be sure that you are communicating well. As the saying goes; communicate, communicate and when you are done that communicate some more.
A good example of this was an LNG plant I worked with. Upper management was concerned with the lack of detail around daily shift reports. They wanted more detail around safety, preventative maintenance, operations and downtime issues. I took this information and began informal meetings with plant operations crews to glean from them what they felt would be good information to put in a daily shift report. Turns out I got a list of items that was almost identical to the list the management had given to me. They created templates, made sure these items were addressed each shift and in very short order daily reports and the detail in them soared. What was really instructive in this process was a discussion I had with a shift supervisor when he asked what had prompted this process. When I told him the management had been concerned about the lack of detail he looked at me and said "Why didn't they just ask?"
Directions may have been given at some point in the past but those had been forgotten and things had fallen by the wayside. So it is with your team. Provide regular and detailed directions - it is okay to communicate what you want as a leader.
The second aspect to understand with supervision is that people actually want to know how they are doing and where they stand with you. The more you communicate what you require of each of your team the more opportunity you have to recognize them for the good work they are doing or correct for those things that are not yet in alignment with your objectives. Regular checking in on those things can actually be very healthy and people will appreciate it. I have said this many times but when I ask people how they know they have had a good day and they respond that no-one yelled at them I know that more communication and supervision is required.
It is okay to let your people know what you need from them and sometimes even how you need things done (set process for example) and then check in on them on a regular basis for recognition and feedback. This is not micro-management it is actually a key part of continuous improvement and driving performance. Checking in, discussions at meetings, getting folks to track something are all ways of communicating that what you want is important. Don't be afraid to provide direction and don't be afraid to take time to make sure that is being carried out. Active Supervision will give you a chance to get to know your team and stay on top of potential issues before they become problems.
Active Supervision is making sure the job gets done and your team is getting the feedback they need to make that happen. Micro-management often involves inserting yourself into the process and no one wins in that scenario.