Under the microscope


No one likes to be micromanaged. So why can’t our bosses see it when they do it to us? Are there ways to address it? And is there a cure for it?

Micromanagement. If I was in charge of the English language, I’d rename it micromanagia so that it sounds more like a sickness or disease, because for those who suffer from it and from those who have it, that’s exactly what it feels like. I can imagine the water cooler talk now:

“Did you hear about Phil?”

“No, what happened?”

“He’s got micromanagia.”

“Oh, man. Tough break. Is it serious?”

“Let’s just say that his whole department doesn’t do anything proactive anymore because they all know he’ll come in behind them and change everything. Plus, three people under him have quit in the past two months.”

“That’s tough. I hope neither one of us catch it.”

Office drones

At best, micromanagers are people who pay excessive attention to detail and avoid delegating because, in their mind, no one can do the task as well as they can. They think that if they give up control, then everything around them will come crashing down. If it wasn’t so harmful to the organization, the irony of what micromanagers actually do would be comical: while they may feel they are doing a great job by being so structured and attentive to detail, they are often oblivious to the negative effects that their controlling ways are having on the organization.

At worst, micromanagement can infect an organization much like a virus can infect the human body. Left unchecked, a micromanager can cause rampant frustration and demoralization throughout an organization. Consider this analysis on the effects of micromanagement from a recent posting on the TBLOGICAL blog:

“Micromanagement prevents innovation. Employees can’t come up with new ideas and procedures on their own; they have to constantly check with the micromanager who is often unavailable. Workers become “drones” that wait to be told what to do rather than take risks that come with innovation. Micromanagement slows workflow, as all approvals have to go through the manager who will not give up control. Micromanagement prevents an organization from using the talents and skills of the staff. Employees are hired because they have the knowledge and ability to do a job. If they are constantly being hovered over by an oppressive manager, then they cannot do the jobs that they were hired to do.”

Manager, heal thyself

If you’re working for a micromanager, is there anything you can do to help them fight their sickness? And if you’re a manager or boss and you even have an inkling that you might be suffering from micromanagia, what’s the best medicine? I talked with Dr. Stevie Dawn, Founder and Chief Leadership Officer, Stevie Dawn Inspires, LLC. Dawn is a Fort Worth-based leadership and management coach who believes that micromanagement, like most of workplace leadership issues, can be solved through better communication. “Communication skills are the key ingredient to effective leadership, so that is where we start with every workshop, seminar, and training program,” said Dawn. “We provide customized leadership programs for organizations, as well as workshops and programming for individuals. Our clients are often looking to increase supervisor effectiveness, inspire employees, and create a more positive work environment.”

I asked Dawn to give us some telltale signs that a manager is micromanaging. “If you’re spending more time at your employee’s desks than your own, if you find yourself listing each employee’s shortcomings with other managers, if you’re constantly repeating yourself to your employees, if you have a suggestion for every step in a process…you should do this, you should do that. You are telling them every step, instead of allowing them to find their own solutions,” said Dawn.

Micromanaging can not only lead to unmotivated and disengaged employees, it can also put a big dent in your organization’s bottom line. A recent Gallup study stated that, “highly engaged teams average 18 percent higher productivity and 12 percent greater profitability than the least engaged teams.”

So, how can micromanagers fix themselves? First, micromanagers must realize that they are micromanagers and then they must hold themselves in check when communicating with their employees. “Set expectations for method and frequency that you should be consulted on projects. Hold yourself to this. Set time to visit with employees, but listen more than you talk. Do not give advice unless you are asked for it. Offer to help employees, but tell them to ask for your help. This encourages them to solve problems on their own first. Remind yourself of employee strengths on a regular basis. Remind yourself that it is the result/outcome that matters, not necessarily the process they take to reach it. Allow employees to move through their own process. After a project is completed, you can visit the process and possibly offer suggestions,” said Dawn.

Helping the blind see

If you’re being ruled over by a micromanaging dictator, how can you help them see the error of their ways? For Dawn, it once again comes back to communication. “Ask them to set expectations regarding project updates. Ask for expectations regarding process and outcomes. Seek their advice, but do not offer play by play of your work. If you do this consistently, you may create a micromanager. If you have a friendly relationship, you might ask them if there is something specific you are not doing to their liking. If they say, “not at all”, you might point out that when they are constantly checking up on you, it makes you feel as if you are not competent or that they do not have faith/trust in you. If you are given the opportunity to provide feedback to your manager, such as a 360 evaluation, let them know that they seem to check up on you regularly and it has started to feel as if you are not trusted. Be careful not to use the words smothering or nagging, as these will make the manager defensive. Thank them when they give you space to figure things out. Thank them for advice. Being appreciative of when they do not micromanage will reinforce good behavior,” said Dawn.

Finally, if you are being micromanaged, perhaps the best advice is to remember to keep things in perspective. “Realize that it is about them, not you,” said Dawn. “Do not lose faith in yourself. Believe in your work. Realize that sometimes a person is a micromanager because that is the only management style they have experienced.”