To Micromanage or Not to Micromanage
In this article, I explore 1) an introduction to micromanagement, 2) signs of micromanagement, 3) micromanagers vs. hands on managers, 4) the need for micromanagement, 5) arguments for and against micromanagement, 6) how to micromanage successfully, 7) how to deal with micromanagement, and 8) a short conclusion.
INTRODUCTION TO MICROMANAGEMENT
Anyone who has worked in an organization has at some point in their career either been a micromanager or has been micromanaged. It is not a pleasant feeling to be constantly closely monitored and controlled by your boss.
Micromanagement can be defined as the extreme management of personnel with too much attention to minor details. A micromanager will hover over the employee and look at tiny details and offer comments and criticism, rather than instructing the employee on how to do the job and providing them with a deadline to accomplish it. In most cases, micromanagement is not considered the best form of management as it can be demoralizing and deprecatory for an employee.
Micromanagers find it hard to let go of control and have difficulty in delegating responsibility. They want to do everything themselves and more often than not, end up being frustrated, and frustrating their subordinates too, because things do not get done for lack of good management. But all about micromanagement is not bad; when handled properly and applied under certain circumstances, micromanagement can reap rich benefits for organizations.
SIGNS OF MICROMANAGEMENT
There are several signs of micromanagement. In order to study the impact of micromanagement on an enterprise, it is important to spot these signs. Micromanagers cannot let an employee function independently. They need to be in constant control of the process, observing in minute detail and assessing, commenting and giving suggestions, even when not required. They find it hard to delegate responsibility and end up being over involved in tasks that they could easily have left to their subordinates.
Micromanagers cannot mind their own business. They have to be involved with overseeing other people’s projects too. Most of the time, they get stuck in tiny unnecessary details and refuse to look at the whole picture. Very often, if and when they find a tiny mistake or problem, they will take back the work they had delegated and try to finish it themselves. Micromanagers do not take well to initiatives shown by their subordinates nor do they appreciate independent decision making without their consent. They demand reports at every stage of progress and have a need to be in the know, and no decision can be taken without their blessing. Most of the time, the comments and inputs provided by the micromanager are counterproductive and trivial.
Another quality of micromanagers is that they put their noses in where it is not required. In other words, they involve themselves in other people’s work without discussing it with them first. They think they know all and do not appreciate or accept suggestions from peers, thus undermining the knowledge and experience of others. They focus on the wrong things, thus demotivating their team and killing initiative. They are rarely satisfied with the work others have produced. Most micromanagers are not well liked by their subordinates and colleagues; their team has little sense of loyalty or commitment toward their manager.
MICROMANAGERS VS HANDS-ON MANAGERS
A lot of micromanagers wish to describe themselves as Hands-on Managers. This is a misnomer as the two terms have completely different connotations and should not be confused.
A hands-on manager will set a goal, make sure that the employee is clear about what needs to be done and the result that has to be delivered, and then, let the employee go ahead and complete the task independently. They do check on the progress but do not demand to be informed of every step or be involved in the process of completing the task.
Micromanagers, on the other hand, will set out in detail as to how things are to be done and to what outcome. Then they will hover around and follow the progress in minutest detail, insisting on being informed about everything and that no decision can be made without a nod from them. They do not ever truly delegate, which eventually results in low morale and productivity.
Other differences between the two are that a micromanager will not allow a subordinate to take complete charge of a whole task. They will give it piece by piece. The good managers delegate responsibility to a junior, expect them to deliver the result and do not interfere in the process.
While good managers identify and observe the weaker employees more closely, they do not interfere in the work of competent employees. They adjust their role depending upon the experience and expertise of the employee. The micromanagers treat everyone alike. They take no consideration of experience or knowledge when interacting with employees.
Micromanagers will pay equal attention to details for each and every task they are handed whether it is important or not. Hands-on managers adjust their priorities based on the importance of the job they are scrutinizing. Thus, you can see that there is a difference in the approach of micromanagers and hands-on managers when faced with similar situations. This fundamental difference is what separates them.
There is a good video on the differences between micromanagers and effective managers. It clearly defines how the two differ.
THE NEED FOR MICROMANAGEMENT
Despite all the negative connotations regarding micromanagement, it’s not all bad. There are certain conditions in which it is actually good to micromanage. Some types of businesses have to be micromanaged in order for them to get the desired results and be profitable. There is a need for it when reviewing performances of employees and processes. Not everyone is very conscientious or responsible or even proactive; these types of people need to be micromanaged to be productive.
Micromanagement lays bare the real problems plaguing a team or a business and paves the way for improvement. Minute observations are good for spotting problem areas and dealing with them. They also help to discover inefficient and non-performing staff, who can then be pulled up or asked to leave.
One of the conditions, when micromanagement is essential, is during the onboarding process when a new employee is being inducted. Another condition when it becomes necessary is when there is a problem employee who needs to be checked. If the employee is left free to continue the offensive behavior, it could spread to other employees, undermine the authority of the manager and disrupt the functioning of the organization. When under the microscope, a delinquent employee tends to be more careful of his/her performance.
When a project or the company has a problem, then it is time to micromanage. Other conditions where micromanagement actually helps is when a company is starting out on a new project or when the company’s line of business is in an area where the employees have to work under dangerous conditions or handle hazardous materials. Under such conditions, micromanagement is good as it avoids risks, identifies problems and looks for solutions to solve the problems.
ARGUMENTS FOR AND AGAINST MICROMANAGEMENT
Even though micromanagement may be good under certain conditions, it is still not something that people enjoy. It has the potential of demoralizing people, creating lack of trust and a dysfunctional work environment. No concept is all good or all bad, its success or failure depends upon the way in which it has been implemented. Though most people think that micromanagement is counterproductive, we cannot dismiss it without looking at the advantages and disadvantages of the practice before passing a verdict.
When It Is Good for Business
Micromanagement, when done properly, can be highly productive and help a company, especially for a new venture looking to streamline its productivity and manage resources in a more efficient manner. Micromanagement is good for a business when:
- Hiring new people: In order to get the best candidate for the job, it is essential to have a very methodical process in place before calling a person for an This is essential, so that time and effort are not wasted on the wrong candidate. So, scrutinizing each candidate is good.
- Orienting and onboarding of a new employee: It is good during the onboarding process when a new employee is being inducted. It is essential to micromanage a newbie simply because they need to be shown the ropes and the manager needs to know the capabilities of the person who has been hired. A new employee needs orientation so that he/she can have a good base on which to build his/her career within the organization.
- Starting new processes or ventures: When beginning a new venture or a process, it is essential to micromanage it, in order to discover any loopholes, problem areas or bottlenecks in the process and eliminate them.
- Facing financial or legal problems: When a project or a company is in trouble, then micromanagement is good. It becomes essential to look at all the details, however minute, to find the cause of the problem and plug the leak so that the problem can be solved. This is the time when all employees and their work come under scrutiny and micromanagement.
- Employees have a track record of being problematic: If there is an employee who is known to be problematic, it is important to keep a close eye on his/her performance and actions. This may improve performance, and if it doesn’t, then perhaps it is time for you to let the employee go.
- Engaging in high-risk activities: People working in hazardous industries or involved in high-risk activities need to be micromanaged. This is done for their own safety. Any slip ups in such circumstances could mean life and death, and hence close attention needs to be paid.
- Changing strategy: If a business is changing strategy or making big changes within the organization, micromanagement is good. It helps everyone involved to understand the process and how the changes will impact their role and duties.
- Changing top management: When there is a change in top management, business owners need to micromanage so as to familiarize the new executive to the work environment. Even the most experienced person needs guidance to slip into their new role.
- There is a complaint about the service or product: Owners need to look into this matter and find out where the problem lies to eliminate it before too much damage is done.
- Profits are falling: If the profitability of a business is declining it is time to micromanage to avert disaster.
When It Is Bad for Business
Excess managing is detrimental to the growth and well-being of an organization. Micromanagement has the potential of too much scrutiny, and this can be counterproductive. It can become a problem when:
- It hampers growth and learning: Too much control is not good, for it kills the desire in employees to learn and grow. When an employee knows that he/she is being constantly watched and will be interrupted at every stage, they lose the desire for self-improvement and enhancement.
- It prevents evaluation of skills: It is difficult to assess the skills of employees who are being micromanaged, as it is unclear what they have done themselves and what they have been directed to do by the micromanager. Most micromanagers do not let their subordinates take ownership of their work.
- It affects employees’ performance: Over scrutinizing is demoralizing and creates self-doubts in the employees, which eventually ends in affecting their performance. The employees know that they will not be allowed to work independently or given credit and hence do not put in any extra efforts or add anything more to the task than is asked.
- It kills motivation and innovation: Constant criticism and scrutiny also kill initiative. When the micromanager takes over the task, and there is no scope for inputs from anyone else, it kills innovation and creativity and demotivates the team.
- The micromanager loses control: A micromanager will eventually lose control over the team. Since they use only control to manage their subordinates, soon it becomes ineffective as the employees get used to the bullying, or they leave and seek employment elsewhere.
- There is a loss of trust and mutual appreciation: Micromanagement breeds distrust and dislike. Such an environment, within an organization, is not conducive to growth and productivity. When the atmosphere at work becomes too oppressive, the productivity drops and good employees leave.
- It creates dependency: Since a micromanager does not allow initiative and inputs from other people in the team, the employees learn to leave all decision-making to the manager and become totally dependent on him/her.
- It results in a high attrition rate: One side effect of micromanagement is a high attrition rate, where good employees leave the organization and join rivals or parallel ones. Most creative and hardworking people do not like being under the microscope all the time and prefer to move on.
- Business partners back out: Business partners, especially financial partners, are not happy when all the power remains in the hands of one individual. Employees are there to do the work assigned to them and if they are not free to do so then the organization will be dysfunctional and this will affect profitability. This will not please the financial partners at all.
- It results in increased workload and burnout: When someone is micromanaging they are essentially taking on work that has been assigned to someone else. So micromanagers end up doing double the work, which they could have easily avoided if they had not micromanaged. This causes the overburdening of one individual, in this case, the micromanager, and can lead to burnout. It also hampers the production process by causing bottlenecks and delays.
Now that we know the problems, it should be fairly easy to be able to avoid the pitfalls that give micromanagement such a bad reputation.
HOW TO MICROMANAGE SUCCESSFULLY
Micromanagement is more prevalent than one would imagine. A lot of very successful enterprises and entrepreneurs use it to good effect. Such industry leaders use the following techniques to successfully micromanage their team.
- Have in-depth knowledge of the business: Micromanagement is effective if you know your business or job inside and a person who is familiar with his job can easily spot the problems and guide his/her team to eliminate it.
- Hard work: Good micromanagement is about hard work and dedication. It paves the way for the manager to look into all the little details of the business.
- Interaction with employees and clients: Strong and friendly interaction is a must if micromanagement is to be a positive force for your business. Managers need to be able to give positive guidance without being critical and by respecting their employee’s position, experience, and knowledge. They also need to know their clients and hence, should have a channel of customer feedback available to them.
- Use patience, be calm and respectful in any engagement with employees: Being over critical, irritable, impatient and insulting of peers or employees is detrimental to the good health of an organization. Micromanagers should not allow this to happen when dealing with people.
- Listen to your employees: Learn to listen to the employees. They are the ones who are on the job and know the problems they are facing. Do not dismiss their queries or concerns. Similarly, be ready to call out an employee who does not live up to the expectations and talk to him/her about their progress, goals and priorities.
- Carry out inspections regularly: Managers should carry out regular inspection of the facility and processes to be aware of what is going on in the organization and not completely rely on the reports of the managers.
- Set clear goals: Goals and their expected outcomes should be clearly defined to the team members and then responsibilities should be assigned to the team leaders. Explain that the goal and the expected outcome will be the benchmark against which all performances and progress will be evaluated.
Good leaders have demonstrated that if done properly, micromanagement can be very productive for an organization irrespective of its size. The main points to keep in mind are that there should be autonomy within the organization, and the micromanagers should be careful of how they deal with the employees. The main difference between good management and bad management comes from the way employees are treated within an organization and whether their voices are heard or not.
HOW TO DEAL WITH MICROMANAGEMENT
If you are a micromanager, then you need to break the habit before it is too late. If you are a victim of micromanagement, you do not have to suffer through it. In either case, you have to deal with the problem in a subtle, yet decisive way.
If You Are a Micromanager
If you are one of those managers who like to look into little details, then you need to stop doing it. Here are some tips to help you get rid of the habit:
- Change your attitude.
- Do not hang on to the trivial.
- Advise, don’t dictate.
- Believe in winning.
- Interact with the employees, and hear them out.
- Encourage your employees to approach you with their problems.
- Do not hover around your employees; let them get on with their work.
- Hire the right person for the job and hold him/her accountable.
- Let your employees know what you expect of them.
- Stop nitpicking.
The biggest change has to come from you. You need to take it easy and trust your team to do its job properly, treating your peers and subordinates as people who are just as capable as you.
If You Are Being Micromanaged
If you are being micromanaged by your boss, it can be extremely unpleasant and stressful. You need to get out of the situation either by taking the bull by the horn or by moving on to another job elsewhere. You can help yourself by:
- Talking to your manager about change
- Trying to understand your manager’s point of view
- Looking at your attitude and performance to see where your shortcomings lie
- Building your boss’s confidence in you and your ability
- Volunteering for tasks
- Analyzing your behavior and attitude
- Discovering your boss’s concerns and trying to alleviate them.
- Providing regular updates, so your boss knows what you are doing
- Not letting the criticism get to you
- Trying to stay ahead of your boss with answers, reports, feedbacks, etc.
- Following the rules
Staying in a job where you are being micromanaged is not good for you, your self-worth or your confidence. If you have tried everything in the books and the micromanagement and nitpicking continue, you can go speak to someone higher up in the organization about your problems, or you can find another job and move on. Here is a short, helpful article on how to deal with micromanagers.
We can see that micromanagement is not all bad; it does have its benefits in certain circumstances and conditions. If it is done in a proper manner, it can be beneficial for an organization. Managers need to be aware of their employees’ performance and attitude, but this should be done in a manner that is not hyper critical or deprecatory. They need to be able to deal with people in a respectful and polite manner, and ensure that the inputs that they are giving add to the process and do not unnecessarily bog it down with details. Employees, on the other hand, need to be proactive with their responsibilities, and if they feel they are being micromanaged, do something about it. Whether it is the micromanager or the micromanaged, both need to take stock of the situation. If the micromanagement is becoming restrictive and oppressive, try to remedy it, as sooner or later, it will start to affect the overall productivity of the organization.
Gone were the days when the only way you could purchase a new set of wheels was to head to the …
In San Francisco, we meet co-founder and CEO of Scribd, Trip Adler. He shares his story how …