Updated: Mar 3, 2020
No matter how it is defined, or WHO is interpreting it, micromanagement has a deleterious effect on a team. Relationships, teamwork, productivity, and creativity are stifled. Trust plummets, discretionary effort dissipates and stress levels can skyrocket. This is true whether the behaviors are intentional or not (most likely they aren’t intentional – few micromanagers are even aware they are doing it). It is even true whether or not it is actually occurring objectively – if the employee feels he/she is being micromanaged, the outcomes are the same. The manager then has to decide whether it is worth the effort to address the underlying issues or to replace the employee! Likewise, the employee has to decide whether to continue working for this manager or look for other options.
What Should Managers Do?
Management style must be matched to meet the needs of the situation. Sometimes close supervision and direction are required and other times the direct report should be given more latitude to get the job done with minimal guidance. If an employee is new to a role, has less experience or is not performing tasks at an appropriate level, then the manager needs to adopt a more directive approach. Even seasoned employees must consistently demonstrate that they can perform tasks competently or they too warrant closer management oversight. Typically the most effective – not necessarily the most popular – managers are the ones who hold their employees strictly accountable for delivering positive results. The trick is knowing when to apply the appropriate style. Other things for managers to keep in mind:
Learn to tell the difference between adding value and being a perfectionist, nit-picker or simply one who likes to “kick up dust”. If the fully-loaded average employee per-hour cost is around $50, be absolutely sure that when you require an employee to spend an extra day word-smithing, that it was worth the $400 investment.
Consciously allow others to have influence, make decisions and contribute to the value created by the team
Identify where real performance issues exist and address them through the organization’s formal performance management process
Get help – management is a skill that is honed over time through experience and training. Many great development opportunities are out there – some may be available within your current organization
If the employee cannot get the job done satisfactorily, find someone who can! Making the decision to do so sooner rather than later will be better for all involved.
What Can Micromanaged Employees Do? To the management levels above them, micromanagers might appear to do a pretty good job. As long as they are delivering results, no matter the cost, they are likely to be secure in their roles and will be around for years to come. Realistically, the employees are the ones who will have to adjust. Here are a couple of options that micromanaged employees can consider:
Take a critical look at your own performance. Is there anything you are doing that is adding to the problem? Self-identified micromanagers often claim that they wouldn’t have to micromanage if their people would just do what they were supposed to do. It may not fix the problem, but delivering your best may give you a little more breathing room.
Play by their rules. Admittedly, spending your day requesting permission for every action, justifying every decision or rewriting every sentence is not productive. However, fighting it will be even less so. Figure out the hot buttons, pet peeves and sticking points and try to abide. Sadly this may mean spending more time on the non-value-added appeasing tasks, but if you can streamline them, you may be able to create a workable relationship.
Try not to take it to heart. Assuming your work is sound, try not to let the constant nit-picking affect your self-confidence. The problem is the manager’s, not yours.
Talk to them about their behavior. You may want to attempt a frank, but respectful discussion with the manager about the issue. Come prepared with recent examples and ideas for how you can work better together. Be aware though, that they may be unable to recognize that their behavior is problematic and their inherent lack of trust may create a contentious discussion.
Take it up with a “higher authority” (e.g., boss’s boss or HR). We tend to find this approach may end up doing more harm than good. At the very heart of micromanagement is a lack of trust, and going over the manager’s head, potentially making him/her look bad is a cardinal sin in the eyes of this type of manager. 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. Assume your manager is not going to leave. If you find that your work, your family and most likely your health and well-being are suffering because of a work situation that has become intolerable, looking for a better job may be the best thing you could do for yourself and your long-term career. Ultimately, you are in control of your own future and can make the decision to leave for greener pastures.
Organizations Should Take Note as Well!
Whether viewed as a valid management style or dysfunctional behavior, micromanagement should be considered by an organization as they identify and groom their future leaders. Because micromanagement is often eclipsed by the more obvious management issues, it doesn’t get a lot of attention in terms of correction. Assuming the micromanager should be retained, there are some things an organization can do to help both the manager and the team.
Help them to develop as managers. Choose a manager training program that focuses on teaching the manager to adjust his or her personal management style to the needs of the employees is required. Self-awareness in the form of a 360 feedback assessment or personality profiling and perhaps some one-on-one coaching would help as well.
Remove their power to control by empowering the employees. For example, if the manager is a bottleneck for approval of even the most insignificant of expense reports – allow employees to submit those without approval. Or if the manager is blocking all communications from his team to the next levels in the organization, introduce new channels such as skip level lunches so that employees have a voice.
Monitor and evaluate the situation. In some cases, micromanagement might be a sign of a more significant issue with the manager. If you hit a critical mass of employee complaints and other indicators of a problem, stay on top of it and take action (e.g., performance improvement plan, warnings, termination) if necessary.
At the end of the day, we all have to decide what we can change and what we are willing to deal with. In the case of micromanagement, this goes for both the employee and the manager.
Managers: You don’t want to be a micromanager. No matter how convinced you are that this article is NOT about you, be aware of your own behavior
Are you appropriately adapting your management style/behaviors/inputs to the needs of your employees?
Are you sure that the input, help, and guidance you are giving is adding significant value to the outcome?
If you can’t give a definitive “yes” to both of these questions, do yourself and your employees a favor and get some help. The development, training and coaching resources available are endless.
Employees: No one likes to be micromanaged. If you are in a situation that you find intolerable, change it. Remember, you are in control. Either find a workable solution with your manager or look for another position. Either way, stop stewing. Life is too short.
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About the authors: Paul Gillard, PhD and Rachel Radwinsky, PhD.
Paul and Rachel combine their strengths (or perhaps multiply their weaknesses) to occasionally produce joint blog posts. Because these typically take weeks of mind-numbing debate to produce, they are relatively rare.