The concept of “High Risk High Support” has been applied to psycho-social rehabilitation for many years, which is where I first learned and applied it. In the early 1990’s, when I was unexpectedly thrust into my first real management position, I adapted the High Risk High Support paradigm to my management of staff, and it has served as my fundamental approach to managing people for over 20 years.
In my experience, no one can be a High Risk High Support (HRHS) manager 100% of the time, and it’s not always appropriate. For example, an immediate crisis is not generally the time for a HRHS approach. In this way, the HRHS matrix is similar to Paul Hersey’s concept of Situational Leadership (Hersey’s book, despite being 30 years old, is something of a timeless approach and worth review).
Low Risk Low Support Manager (The Micro-Manager)
This manager does not burn out his staff but he can bore them to death. He does not challenge or inspire them. His interactions with his staff revolve almost exclusively around tasks and all the tasks are completely pre-defined, allowing little room for interpretation or creativity from those expected to complete them. This manager can place greater value on small gains in efficiency than he does in relationships. Staff may feel treated as if they are both unwilling and unable to do their work without clearly defined carrots and sticks and a detailed score keeping system. This manager can be obsessed with policies and procedures and adherence to them, or he may be an easy-going person who simply cannot let go and see work completed in a manner different from how he would do it.
High Risk Low Support Manager (The Disconnected Manager)
This manager tends to burn out her staff. She does not micro-manage, but also tends not to provide adequate direction and support. This manager will often not notice when her staff is over-taxed or in need of resources. This manager’s staff are torn between feeling valued in that they are given a lot of responsibility and ownership, and resentment when expectations of them do not relate to the reality of resources available or provided. This manager often fails to communicate effectively and may act as if staff can read her mind. This manager is often surprised and frustrated to discover failed execution of her vision, but the failure to execute stems from her inability to communicate and motivate. In some cases this manager’s high risk approach is unintentional, more a result of introversion than an approach to managing.
Low Risk High Support Manager (The Codependent Manager)
This manager remains attentive to the well-being of staff and makes sure they are well equipped, but then does not give them responsibilities equivalent to their skills and resources. This manager tends to micro-manage even the smallest project and prefers staff to adopt his methods and approach to work. Though liked personally by his staff, they often find him exasperating. They know this manager’s opinions and are usually tired of hearing them. They almost always know how the manager would want them to proceed, but must listen to him tell them almost every time they begin a project. This manager may spend more time in the offices of his staff than they do in his, but he likely over stays his welcome.
High Risk High Support Manager (The Effective Leader)
This manager gives staff a lot of responsibility and allows them a great deal of room to use their best judgment, remaining focused on outcomes above methods with which she may or may not always agree. At the same time, this manager remains alert to the needs of staff, ensuring they are not over-taxed and have all the resources necessary to handle their responsibilities. Those who work for this manager often know what she might think about a topic without asking her, or how she might handle a situation. This manager’s discussions with his staff usually focus on big pictures issues, underlying strategy, weighing options, and exploring other points of view. This manager may spend more time in the offices of her staff or at their workstations than they spend in her office.