The ‘not so subtle’ Art of Micromanagement
Micromanagement is a very unfortunate style of management. Micromanagers (less diplomatically referred to as control-freaks) suffocate their people with continual hovering, closely monitoring, getting overly involved, paying excessive attention to detail and many more attempts at controlling the work of others. This management behavior strangles those who report to the manager and sometimes it isn’t only limited to one’s own employees. In rare cases it may stretch beyond their own borders into other areas of the company.
Micromanagement, in the majority of cases, has a terribly negative connotation because it builds unhealthy relationships. It causes those who are being micromanaged to feel demeaned or depreciated. The employee perceives a lack of faith in their competency and a total absence of trust in their ability to deliver. They are uncomfortable and their productivity is lowered.
The most frequent comment I hear (more than anything else) in an interview is – ‘I have a problem with micromanagers’. Nobody likes the dreaded micromanager for a boss and nobody wants their next manager to be one, either. The micromanager or control-freak label has now become so unmentionable within the workplace that most managers or supervisors try to avoid any link with its ‘symptoms’.
Surveys and research studies estimate upwards of 79% of workers report they have been micromanaged at some point in their careers.
The opposite can be said of supportive managers. These managers get involved in goal setting and ensuring their employees are clear on expectations, desired outcomes as well as progress throughout the course of the work. These managers set their employees up for success using a rational, open-minded and progressive management style.
Common signs of micromanagement
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.
Look for patterns. As annoying as micromanagers are, they are incredibly predictable.
- 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
Image: Flickr aimeedars
By contrast, a supportive manager adds value to the situation by defining broad tasks for employees and then leaving them alone to do their work. These managers have confidence that they have hired competent workers who can complete tasks without being continually reminded of the process.
Ideally, it comes down to a capable leader with the right set of management tools. The best managers will have employees who believe they are not being micromanaged. There will be an appropriate balance between being involved and letting others work independently.
Great managers set a clear framework and then allow their team to be creative within that vision, even when it looks different from how they would do things.
Why is micromanagement a serious concern?
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 micromanagers are ever aware that they are undermining their people with this kind of micromanagement behavior.
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. Micromanagement is mis-management, and under it, the employees, their manager and the business suffers.
Employees see micromanagers as controlling, dictatorial, judgmental, critical, bureaucratic, snooping, and more.
What are some of the major pitfalls of micromanagement?
Some of the most destructive effects of micromanagement include:
- 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 environments
- Provokes anti-social behavior
- Stress levels skyrocket 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
Micromanagers tend to focus on the how versus focusing on the outcome or the results.
To the untrained eye, micromanagers might appear to be doing a pretty good job. If results are being delivered, regardless of the cost, micromanagers 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.
The key thing for micromanaged people to remember is that micromanagement should not be taken personally. True micromanagers use this compulsive overseeing behavior with both good employees as well as those who are not performing well.
What can an employee do to create more breathing room? How can micromanaged employees improve their predicament?
- 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.
I perform best under micromanagement – said no employee, ever!
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.
Employers own some responsibility and have a stake in the issue
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 the overall company culture.
Assuming 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
When employers allow weak management behavior to continue, the organization is left with nothing more than a group of timid, cowered workers managed by an overwhelmed manager. The best strategy when identifying, grooming and promoting future leaders within a company is to firstly look for signs, then observe and evaluate any micromanagement behavior. If it is there, consider it, review it and determine if it can be corrected with coaching or training – before promoting anyone.
Companies and their people have learned some important things about managers over the last number of years –
- GOOD managers empower their employees by giving them opportunities to excel
- WEAK managers dis-empower their people by hoarding opportunities for growth
Despite all of the negative connotations associated with micromanagers, recent discussions have surfaced regarding the positive use of ‘some’ micromanagement traits in modern companies. Experts say if the right balance is struck between monitoring and letting others work independently, aspects of micromanagement can be used to positive effect in the workplace.