Management: Hands On or Hands Off?

February 24, 2015

The easy part of management is the title. The difficult part of management is the actual activity of managing. Owners automatically become managers whether they want to or not. Others become managers through promotion.

Many times when an owner starts a small business, he or she is the only person working in the business. As the business begins to grow, then employees are hired, but the owner has never really practiced management. Until employees were hired, there was never a need to manage. Although the owner might have expertise in the technical aspects of the business, this does mean that managerial experience was gained. Now comes the task of on-the-job learning!

Likewise, employees who get promoted into managerial positions many times have little or no experience other than what their primary job functions were. Perhaps, they got promoted because a previous manager left creating the open position or, maybe, the business grew to the point that the owner could no longer effectively manage all employees. Regardless of the reason, here comes on-the-job learning again!

So, how does a manager “manager?” There are two distinct approaches: hands-on and hands-off.


Hands-on management can be thought of as micro managing. Managers with this approach get involved in everything that occurs within their departments. They want to know about every detail and want to be involved in every decision. As the expression goes, they look over everyone’s shoulder. All of the authority to do anything rests with this one person. They decide on working conditions, when vacations can be taken, what responsibilities each employee has, and generally set the tone of every workday. They might even decide about company social events and expect everyone to attend.

This autocratic approach can certainly produce positive results for a business. Company goals are met, and employees either get “on board” or get out when they can no longer handle the situation. Sometimes, of course, it is not the employee’s choice to stay or leave. The manager makes that decision for them!

One obvious problem with this type of management is the lack of overall experience that others within the department gain. No one other than the manager participates in any of the decision-making processes. If and when the manager leaves or is not present, a vacuum is formed. Decision-making comes to halt and no one is available, if necessary, to fill the void. No one is groomed to step in for the absent manager.


This approach is at the other end of the management spectrum. Employees are given a wide-range of latitude in performing their individual jobs. They know what is expected of them and are judged on their performance. "Did they get the job done in contrast to how they actually did the job," is what matters. They have objectives to meet, and the manager gets involved only when problems occur or major decisions have to be made.

Employees working in this environment have a sufficient amount of independence but, also, lack getting involved in the overall company objectives and philosophy. They come to work, do their jobs, get rewarded if they perform in a satisfactory manner (or get fired if not), and leave at the end of the day with, perhaps, little interaction with their counterparts at the company.


Every manager has his or her own way of managing that can range from one end of the spectrum to the other or somewhere in the middle. Regardless of the management philosophy that one adheres to, mentoring is an important aspect of a company’s future and growth.

Inexperienced employees must be mentored, so they can grow professionally within the company and be ready to accept higher levels of responsibility when called upon. Employees come and go at any company. Small business is no exception, so owners need to be prepared as key managers leave. Although owners might have the philosophy that they can do everything better themselves, they must nurture and encourage employees to learn.

Although employees can learn various managerial styles through study, it is through mentoring and the back and forth dialog that solidifies a particular style that a new manager will implement as his or her own. While many small businesses lack a depth of management talent, mentoring is a way to build that talent from within.

The Verdict

There is no right way or wrong way to manage. Each approach will have advantages and disadvantages. It is up to each manager to “manage” in a way that best fits his or her personality and company philosophy. What is of utmost importance is that small businesses prepare talented employees to one day be prepared to become managers and accept higher levels of responsibility.