The Art of Micromanagement

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What is a Micromanagement?

In business management, micromanagement is a management style where a manager closely observes or controls the work of subordinates or employees. Micromanagement generally has a negative connotation and in many cases,  employees believe their manager is being condescending towards them. The employee may perceive a lack of faith in their competency and an absence of trust in their ability to deliver. Over the years there have been several surveys and research studies conducted on the subject of micromanagement.  An estimated 79% of workers report they have been micromanaged at some point in their careers.

Good managers  absolutely need to be involved in setting goals and ensuring their employees are clear on expectations, desired outcomes as well as progress throughout the course of the work. Sadly, there are many employees who have experienced a management style that is more overbearing than hands-on and collaborative.

How do you spot the signs of micromanagement?

So how do we define micromanagement? Why do some people confuse it as hands-on management? Where do we draw the line between being an involved manager, and an overly-involved manager? Is this kind of behavior detail-oriented or obsessive? Is it constructive or controlling? Micromanagement usually refers to inappropriately close observation and/or control of a subordinate’s work.

Some of the telltale signs of micromanagement include:

  • Dictating how employees should complete tasks
  • Providing rapid criticism
  • Correcting tiny details instead of looking at the big picture
  • Excessive supervision
  • Questioning employees’ judgments
  • Resisting delegation
  • Taking back delegated work before it is finished or if a mistake is found
  • Discouraging others from making decisions without consulting with them
  • Frequently asking for updates and checking in incessantly on progress

By contrast, a Macro-manager adds value to the situation by defining broad tasks for employees and then leaving them alone to do their work. Macro-managers have confidence that they have hired competent workers who can complete tasks without being continually reminded of the process.

Why is micromanagement a serious concern?Big_Boss_is_watching_you_by_GraffitiWatcher

Micromanagement lowers morale, limits productivity and increases staff turnover. In the worst case scenario, micromanagement creates a culture of  zombieism because employees expect their work will be scrutinized and reworked by their manager. Any creativity brought to the role is constrained or destroyed. Unfortunately few micro-managers are ever aware that they are undermining their people with this kind of micromanagement behavior.

Image by GraffiWatcher

What are some of the effects that micromanagement has on employees?

  • Employees fail to learn and adapt to new situations, employee development is inhibited
  • Disengaged employees invest time, but not effort or creativity
  • Teamwork is negatively impacted and often destroyed
  • Relationships are stifled
  • Trust plummets
  • Promotes a dysfunctional and possible hostile work environment that provokes anti-social behavior
  • Stress levels sky rocket and that may affect mental and/or physical health

Lastly, there are also external impacts that can have severely detrimental effects on a company’s reputation and brand. Skilled employees may defect to competitors, complain in social settings and outside observers (consultants, clients, interviewees, or visitors) may notice undesirable behavior that they recount it in their conversations. This could result in damage that is irreparable. see GlassDoor

The job of a manager is to ensure that the work within their domain is done as effectively and efficiently as possible. If that manager is attempting to dictate all actions and otherwise control the employees’ every move, the group cannot be efficient or effective because that result requires a rational, open-minded and progressive management style. Micromanagement is mis-management, and under it, the employees, their manager and the business suffers.

How do micromanaged employees deal with this challenge?delegate

To the untrained eye, micro-managers might appear to be doing a pretty good job. If results are being delivered, regardless the cost, micro-managers may be pretty secure in their roles. This means it will be the employees who will have to adjust. Unfortunately for those employees, it is difficult to ever feel trusted and valued again. What can an employee do to create more breathing room? How can micromanaged employees improve their predicament?

To begin with –

  • Take a critical look at your own performance. Is there anything you are doing that is adding to the problem?
  • Play by their rules. Figure out your manager’s hot buttons, pet peeves and picky points and try to conform.
  • Be a proactive communicator. Try sending your manager regular updates, before they have the chance to ask for them
  • Do your job well. Meet deadlines. Be productive. Make clients happy. Show you’re trustworthy, thorough, and on top of your work.
  • Make upfront agreements that teach your manager how to delegate.  Prompt your manager to give you all the information you need upfront, set times for check-in meetings, discuss how, when and where your manager will be involved based on guiding principles and not the tactical elements.
  • Talk to the manager about their behavior. You may want to attempt a frank, but respectful discussion with your manager about the issue. Ask if there are any suggestions for how you can improve next time so that they will be comfortable using a more hands-off approach. Concentrate on helping your boss to change one micromanagement habit at a time.
  • Try not to take it to heart. Assuming your work is sound, the problem is the manager’s, not yours. Learning to ignore criticism is tough, but sometimes necessary.

then, and only then, if all else fails – 

  • Take it up with a “higher authority”.  Although it may buy some momentary relief, chances are you will suffer in the long run.
  • Leave the organization. This option may be the only choice in some situations. Remember you are in control of your own future and are the one to make the decision when to leave for greener pastures.

EMPLOYERS also have a stake in the issue of micromanagement

Micromanagement often goes unseen in companies because more there may be more obvious management issues requiring attention. Unfortunately this means that micro-managers continue to survive and affect the performance of individual employees, project teams and overall company culture.

Empower-Definition-Button-Show-32860085Assuming a micro-manager is retained in their role, there are some steps an organization can take to support the manager, their team and the values of the company.

  • Help individuals develop as managers. This may include training, mentoring, coaching and/or 360 feedback assessment
  • Remove the manager’s ability to bottleneck and/or their power to control. Empower company employees and begin introducing new channels for open communication.
  • Monitor and evaluate the situation. In some cases micromanagement might be a sign of a more significant issue that needs to be addressed with the manager

In Summary

It was the great Peter Drucker that said “So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work.” 

Over the last two decades we have learned  – GOOD managers empower their employees by giving them opportunities to excel. WEAK managers dis-empower their people by hoarding opportunities for growth.

If employers allow weak management behavior to continue, an organization may be left with nothing more than a group of timid, cowered workers managed by an overwhelmed manager. This becomes a serious and self-defeating drain on the manager’s time and their ability to perform. It only makes good business sense that when organizations are identifying and grooming the future leaders of their company that micromanagement behavior be considered, reviewed and evaluated.

Forbes published an article How to Manage a Micromanager that may be worth a look if you are dealing with a micromanager in your work.

 “The more you use your reins, the less they’ll use their brains.”

~Pat Parelli, noted horse whisperer and martial arts expert


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