Updated: Feb 12, 2020
The funny thing about micromanagement is that we recognize it when we see it, and we are extremely aware of it when it happens to us, but we rarely, if ever, recognize or admit when we do it ourselves. Admittedly, I do not deal very well with being micromanaged. I don’t think there is ever a time and place for micromanagement. There is no gray area in my book. Micromanagement can be defined as incorrectly providing MORE management (i.e., control, direction, instruction, etc.) than is needed in a given situation. So, given that definition, if you are micromanaging, you are doing something wrong (i.e., managing incorrectly)!
I understand the need to take control of tasks if team members are either unable or unwilling to adequately perform the tasks themselves. When done appropriately, one might simply call that “management”. The problem manager is one who cannot “pull back” and let employees who ARE capable and willing, work, learn and be productive – stepping in when needed. In this case, they are managing poorly and probably deficient in some key management competencies, particularly Empowering Others, Delegation, Developing Others, and perhaps basic Interpersonal Skills.
“The more you use your reins, the less they’ll use their brains” – The Horse Whisperer
By repeatedly controlling every situation, employees become de-motivated (after all, they know their work is going to be scrutinized and reworked by the manager anyway, so why bother trying?) and more importantly, they fail to learn and adapt to new situations since it is never truly up to them to succeed or fail. This will negatively affect their long-term ability to contribute to the team and ultimately the success of the organization.
This is only one of the many outcomes, but I find it best reflects my personal experience. I admit that I am very sensitive to being micromanaged. To make matters worse, I tend to stew over it instead of discussing it, often waiting until I am at the breaking point before voicing my concerns, sometimes in less-than-productive ways. As it develops, the situation can create a tense and stressful environment that affects the whole team.
Is it because you just don’t like being managed?
Certainly, we all have moments at work when being told what to do by someone else feels oppressive and uncomfortable. If you work for a “normal” manager, these feelings are typically short-lived, and likely are due to the situation, personal issues (yours or your boss’s) or both. However, how can you tell when you are being inappropriately or over-managed? The number one, most important element that makes the difference is the VALUE that the manager is adding to the situation. It is a manager’s job to help push the work of the team along – instructing, motivating, guiding, directing, prompting, reminding, and yes, sometimes even doing the work him/herself. The difference lies in whether all that effort is really adding value to the final output or not. If it does add value, great, call it properly applied management. If not – meaning if after all the time and energy spent there is no meaningful improvement above and beyond what the employee would have accomplished alone – then it was indeed micro-freaking-management. Your typical micromanager will argue about the definition of “meaningful” until the cows come home, but for the rest of us, this definition is pretty clear.
Still not convinced? Take this test
I haven’t validated it for commercial use (yet), but I have developed what I think is a fairly useful measure I refer to as my “micromanage-o-meter”. To use it, assume that no more than a certain percentage of the time it takes to perform any task should consist of non-value-added management. That, of course, does not include the instruction, assistance, advice, and guidance that a good manager provides to help an employee better perform the job. What I am referring to is all the other needling, prodding, critiquing and nitpicking that does not actually help. I personally have adopted 15% as my threshold – I build in that generous leeway with the recognition that no one is perfect, situations are constantly changing, one-off miscommunications and misunderstandings are to be expected, and well, we all have our bad days. So, of the total time that it takes to perform any given task or project, what percent of that time do you find is spent doing any or all of the following? If it exceeds your personal threshold, you are being micromanaged.
Asking your manager for permission/approval for things that are clearly within your decision-making authority.
Sitting with your manager as he/she exhaustively reviews, critiques and revises the infinitesimal details of documents, plans, communications, etc. (I had one manager who, I am not exaggerating, would get out a ruler and measure the margins before reading a single word of the document. The worst part was that over time I began obsessing over those details myself.)
Dealing with your manager’s reversal of previously approved and implemented actions
Meeting with your manager to defend, rehash, second-guess and revise past decisions
Watching over your manager’s shoulder as he does the work for you
Brains or Reins?
The various surveys and research studies estimate that 70% of workers report they have been micromanaged at some point in their careers. Do you think you are being micromanaged? Have you stopped using your brain, and instead just let the manager “use the reins”, steering and dictating your every move? Do you watch helplessly as your time is spent responding to “non-value-added management” rather than productive work? Or, as a manager, do you find this describes some of your own behaviors? The good news is that even though it may be hard to change direction, you always have a choice. In our blog post entitled How to Deal With Micromanagement, we will talk about some of the choices that employees, managers, and organizations can make regarding micromanagement.
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About the author: Rachel Radwinsky, Ph.D. Rachel enjoys writing and sharing her views on a wide range of business and career-related topics. The Organizational Realities Blog serves as a creative outlet to express her observations and opinions freely - You've been warned.