January 31, 2012 at 9:33 pm #151407
For most of my career, a phenomenon called “micro-management” has scared the heck out of me. I didn’t like being micro-managed and I swore that I would never become a micro-manager.
To be micro-managed was to be stifled, cut off from my creative energy, and made me feel as though my judgment was not respected. To micro-manage was to duplicate effort (if I had to micro-manage, I may as well do the work myself), disrespect my employees, stifle their creative energy, and neglect my other duties. I believed if I could get myself out of the way, my employees would do greater things than if they given a prescription.
I’ve also made a mistake or two with my approach. Occasionally, I had an employee who seemed to need micro-management. The structure and prescriptive approach to management was what they needed to thrive. Without it, they were frustrated, presumably frozen, and always asking “what should I do next?” When I had to provide this level of supervision, it made me crazy.
What are YOUR thoughts about micro-management?
Can it be a good thing in some circumstances?
Should it be avoided all together?
What should we do with employees who need a lot of structure to be successful?
February 1, 2012 at 1:46 pm #151477
I suppose there may be times when micromanaging isn’t evil, however in my experience it created the atmosphere that you laid out, oppressive, depressing, stifling. (And it can be even more fun when the micromanager couldn’t do your job to save their life, but sure loves telling you how to do it.)
One situation I was in the micromanger would augment the experience with a level of nitpicking that was maddening. They would leap on any and every mistake made by others. If an employee did something wrong, no matter how minor, that person would be ‘teased’ about it for weeks/months. So some tiny error that had zero effect on the outcome would be tossed out every time that person could think to toss it out. You got to the point where you were like ‘Yeah, I left the semi colon out six months ago, can we move on now???’
It ended up creating an air of ‘yeah, what they know doesn’t hurt us’. I’m sure it maddened the micromanager to feel excluded and not ‘in’ on everything, but they could never see that their judgemental and near bullying attitude is what caused people to shut up and shut down. If someone wants an open atmosphere they can’t also be judgmental.
It was a very, very dysfunctional atmosphere.
And it was all created because of one person’s need to micromanage and then how peoples’ behavior adapted to deal with it.
I have to wonder if the employee that needs the structure and micromanaging, if what they really need is to be put in a position with very little freedom or ‘guesswork’ to eliminate the need of the supervisor to spend his/her day ‘babysitting’ that person. Maybe instead of micromanaging them to help them perform, a better course of action could be to see if there’s a position within the agency that naturally has the greater amount of structure that the person needs to thrive.
Why should you as the supervisor, have to spend lots of time holding an employee’s hand guiding them through their day?
February 1, 2012 at 4:20 pm #151475
I can’t work in an environment where my shoulder is being constantly looked over. The first draft of something while in the process of writing it isn’t going to be great, I’ll show you when I’m ready or when the deadline arrives (which I definitely should be ready by)! I think Denise is right about moving the employee if he/she needs micromanagement in a field that they shouldn’t if they are qualified.
February 1, 2012 at 4:52 pm #151473
I believe there is a huge difference between providing solid direction and guidelines, and micromanaging. If you want your employees to grow and develop, you have to give them some space to breath and learn! Part of learning is making mistakes, so you may not always have perfection, but in the end by giving your employee some freedom they will be happier, and have the ability to produce better work in the end. 🙂
February 1, 2012 at 4:54 pm #151471
At what point do we draw a line between creating an environment where there is “very little freedom or ‘guesswork,’ and micromanagement? The extreme case you mentioned above is obvious, but I wonder if there are some good criteria for distinguishing the two.
I suppose you are suggesting that there are situations where employees prefer to have very little freedom, yes?. I’m not coming up with any off the top of my head, but I’ll agree that they’re out there. Do you have an example?
February 1, 2012 at 4:56 pm #151469
Sounds like you’re a writer, Corey, yes? That would drive me nuts too. 🙂
February 1, 2012 at 5:02 pm #151467
Good points! So how do we distinguish between “solid direction and guidelines” and “micromanaging?” Perhaps one person’s “solid direction and guidelines” is another person’s “micromanagement.”
February 1, 2012 at 5:03 pm #151465
Allison, you also introduce the concept of making mistakes. Is there a correlation between allowing people to make mistakes (or not), expecting perfection, and micromanagement? What is the difference, if any, between a perfectionist and a micro-manager?
February 1, 2012 at 6:37 pm #151463
I suppose you are suggesting that there are situations where employees prefer to have very little freedom, yes?. I’m not coming up with any off the top of my head, but I’ll agree that they’re out there. Do you have an example?
For example, putting the person in a position where they have a clearly defined set of goals adn duties. For example if there was a field inspector that called the boss 20 times a day needing clarification maybe they are moved into a position where they simply enter other peoples’ reports.
as to distinguishing, maybe if you see things like the employee saying ‘we have to ask the supervisor, we can only do what the supervisor says’. Employees refusing to voice an opinion or take initiative or saying that they can’t. If the employee is working in an air of (relatively) free decision and control then they’ll take that control. Or say something along the line of ‘I think we should do this but we’ll have to run it by….’
But if they steadfastly refuse to make any decision and insist upon only doing what the supervisor tells them to do, then you may have a controlling supervisor.
You can also look into how the supervisor treats his/her employees. Do they place great importance upon their position? Things like ‘I’m this title, I’m in charge’. When they place that much importance upon their position and ‘power’ then they are likely to be focused on ‘me boss, you subordinate, do what I say’, which often lends itself to the micromanager.
February 1, 2012 at 6:49 pm #151461
Micro managing should be a very last resort when all other efforts have failed. Unfortunately sometimes it is necessary. Several years ago I worked with members of Congress who had gained presidential support and statutory authority for an initiative. Unfortunately the senior executives at the agency tasked with implementation didn’t approve of the initiative and were dragging teir feet to avoid compliance. Congressional instructions became more explicit with each passing year (involving several appropriations bills and multiple hearings). Each time Congress provided broad guidance, the agency found away around it by pointing to various grants of discretionary authority in previous legislation. Finally, the staff director of the appropriations subcommittee of jurisdiction called in the agency head and laid out an appropriations bill that detailed how every single dollar in their account was to be obligated, by line item and by fiscal quater; pointing out that if cooperation were not forthcoming, this bill would be the next step and the President would sign it. The agency shifted direction in less than 30 days.
Micromanagment is the 2×4 of leadership and I don’t know of anyone who actually enjoys using it but some mules simply will not heed any other instruction.
February 1, 2012 at 7:05 pm #151459
If you feel you have to micro-manage, then….
1) You may have done a lousy job at selection and mis-hired.
2) You may be piss-poor at clearly identifying the objectives for employees so they can get the task done right.
3) You may be headed for the cardiac ward sooner than you think.
4) You may end up with greater employee turnover than you can handle or expect.
5) You are inadvertently undermining any employee interest in being innovative or gaining organizational knowledge (why learn to tie your shoelaces if mom always does it?)
6) You may find yourself lost in the details and losing perspective about the macro aspects to be attended to.
Allison makes a good point that attention to detail CAN be a means for providing guidance and shaping skill. If it is broached as preparing a fledgling employee for flying on their own, and desists soon after, then it’s mentorship not micro-management. If it happens in spite of employee confidence and skill, and persists, its micro-management.
As I keep repeating ad nauseum, the secret to effective management is to surround yourself with competent cooperative people, clearly identify the higher-order and concrete objectives and underlying rationale, provide the human, informational, and tangible resources for people to get the job done, and then get the hell out of the way.
February 1, 2012 at 8:28 pm #151457
Wow… Peter, you’re story of Congressional action (usually coupled with GAO action), Executives dragging their feet to avoid compliance, and things growing increasingly more prescriptive is all too familiar, sadly.
I like the 2×4 analogy!
Thanks for sharing!
February 1, 2012 at 8:29 pm #151455
Well said, Mark.
February 1, 2012 at 8:58 pm #151453
February 1, 2012 at 9:26 pm #151451
I try not to micro-manage, but I am upfront with my staff that I will nag. The difference – nagging is asking you about your progress or reminding you about the deadline without actually seeing the product (unless you offer to show it to me). Every time I ask you how it’s coming is an opportunity for you to get clarification, tell me about some obstacle you’ve encountered, etc. So when you respond each time with something like “it’s all under control”, I’m going to take you at your word. But blow the deadline or provide a weak product and then say you had questions about what needed to be done, and you’ve given me permission to move beyond nagging and into micromanagement, starting with frequent status meetings where you have to show your progress.
February 1, 2012 at 9:56 pm #151449
Ah… the nag factor. How much of nagging falls under monitoring and how much could be attributed to micromanagement? A certain amount of “nagging” is unavoidable.
So your arrangement starts with nagging (I prefer the words “following up” to describe what you’re doing early on), then becomes micromanagement once a staff member blows a deadline and didn’t ask for help (proven themselves unreliable), is that right?
It looks like you have a sort of contract set up with you staff. Is this arrangement clear to folks before they get hit with the micromanagement 2×4 (I love that analogy now.. lol), or do they find out once they’ve breached your trust?
I’m not trying to put you on the spot. I’m hoping to clarify the progression from follow up to micromanagement. Maybe your comment suggests there’s a way to short circuit the micro-manager by modifying the feedback loop (i.e. providing regular and accurate feedback).
February 1, 2012 at 11:39 pm #151447
Micromanaging is not managing and neither is seagull managing (where you drop the task and walk away).
However employees have more control over this than they think. The key is to be the kind of person a manager can trust to do a good job as the manager defines it. If you can’t get on the same page the result will be like the above.
One thing that can help a lot is communicating – even overcommunicating. This can clear up misunderstandings while they are still minor and manageable.
February 2, 2012 at 12:36 am #151445
“Seagull managing” – another keeper. 🙂
Good advice, Danielle. Communication can help a lot in these circumstances.
February 2, 2012 at 2:34 pm #151443
I explain my style to new staff when they join the group (or when I joined the group). The first blown deadline usually results in a long conversation about why it happened and a reminder that I view every single conversation as an opportunity for them to ask for help/guidance/extension/etc. After that first minor loss of trust, my questions get more specific – no longer “How’s it going” but “Have you hit any snags? When do you think you’ll have something for me to look at?”. If I continue to get the “everything’s good” answers when it’s not, then we start meeting frequently with you producing evidence of your progress. I’m still not going to do your job for you but now you have to earn my trust back that you know how to do the job.
My starting assumption with any new staff member is that they were promoted to their current grade for a reason and they have the technical skills necessary to so their job. What they need to learn is the organization’s policies, procedures and quirks. If my assumption is faulty, it will come out. But what I usually find is that the person didn’t want to be seen as needing to ask for help. Because maybe you know exactly what to do but have run out of time because something else you are doing took too much time. Or maybe you just back-burnered it because your priorities were different than mine (learning experience for both of us). And maybe, you just don’t understand what I’m asking for but don’t want me to know that. For example – In contract management there are a lot of ways to do the same thing – especially when it involves tracking status of something. What works for me may not work for you so I don’t expect you to do it my way. But I do expect that youhavea way, that you canexplainyour way to others, and that it’s not something you create/re-create only when asked to produce it. After all, that’s how contracts run out of money. So when your performance plans says you have a tracking system that shows, at a minimum, funding applied and invoices paid and that it’s on the network, I expect that I can go on the network to your files and find it. I also expect that it’s up-to-date since you’re the one who initiates incremental funding requests and pays the invoices. I don’t expect that when I ask you to show it to me as part of a performance meeting, you reply that you’ll have to get back to me on that and it takes 3 days or more for it to suddenly appear.
February 2, 2012 at 3:54 pm #151441
I realize that the definition between these concepts will differ between individuals, but to me “solid directions and guidelines” is letting your employee know what needs to be done, versus “micromanagement” which is what needs to be done and this is the only way to do it. Depending on your employees skill sets, they may have a different approach to solving problems and completing tasks, and by micromanaging they may not be able to do as good of a job.
I definitely think there is a correlation between making mistakes and micromanagement. In my opinion a perfectionist wants perfection at the end of the day, where a micro-manager wants perfection every step of the way. Learning a new skill and working on projects depends on a bit of trial and error – whether it is trying new ideas and approaches to familiar tasks, or trying to complete a project that you have never attempted before. Even in projects that end up being “perfect”, there are internal ups and downs during the process. If you are being micromanaged it is more difficult to recover from these minor trials along the way, and thus more difficult to make your project awesome!
February 2, 2012 at 6:43 pm #151439
I think there also needs to be a tolerance for people finding their own way to do things. For example, way back when, I worked at a grocery store and it was up to each cashier to count down their drawer at the end of their shift. The goal was to have 140 in cash, 1’s, 5’s and change, and $10 in food stamps. I would teach them and I’d say ‘this is the goal, this is how I do it, I don’t care how you do it, just get it right and have this amount of money in the drawer when you bring it back to me’
THe micromanager tosses a fit if you don’t count it EXACTLY the way they do, the ‘solid direction and guidance’ is ‘here’s your goal (the $140 + $10) here’s how I do it, if you find a way that works better for you, fine, but know that you have to be right’
Intolerance for other working styles is a sign of a micromanager. Say things the way I do, use the phrases I do, take the actions I take, follow this work flow, etc. They need to recognize that everyone doesn’t have to mimick them to get the job done.
People often learn from their mistakes, but in forcing some to do things ‘your way’ you may be forcing them so far out of their ‘zone’ that you end up generating more mistakes than they would have made had you just let them do it.
February 3, 2012 at 3:47 pm #151437
Gordon Lee SalmonParticipant
Great conversation and examples of dealing with micromanaging. In my last blog on powerful conversations and the consequences of avoiding them, I spoke about the need for courage. If you are being micromanaged, do you avoid having a conversation with your boss about how you can both work towards the same end and still provide room for creativity and innovation? Sometimes a boss feels that he/she is being held accountable for the end result and hasn’t clearly started what they expect. A failure to effectively delegate is often at the root of micromanagement. How can you ask better clarifying questions to ensure good delegation?
February 3, 2012 at 5:00 pm #151435
Frequently, the boss is also accountable for things like employee survey results that include indices of harassment or pressure (the latter often being reported as the former), and other things that undermine engagement.
Senior and upper middle-management needs to send the message to staff that it is OK to discuss such matters, and that it may well be in the boss’s best interests to do so if it improves those indices of morale and engagement. Doesn’t mean they have to start being laissez-faire. And, as you rightly point out, sometimes micromanagement IS a result of misdelegation and tasking people with things that really ought to be handed off to someone else, or divided up.
I think some of what Pattie has raised is also quite pertinent. Even if you buy a measly $6 meal, your server comes over and asks if everything is satisfactory, so why shouldn’t a supervisor try to find out early on if the right task and right resources were assigned to the right person? Ultimately, a lot of this comes down to etiquette and the understood rules of what is normative and what might be construed as threat. If the higher-ups convey clearly that some forms of checking up are in everybody’s interests within the organization, and that the normal way of doing so will, or ought to, look like this (i.e., a script is provided), then that lets supervisors with less-than-perfect soft skills do so with more grace, and lets staff discern when it’s normative vs non-normative.
February 3, 2012 at 5:04 pm #151433
Bringing in middle and senior management is an excellent idea, Mark! The entire organization has a responsibility to ensure the leadership pipeline is well cared for. Great point!
February 3, 2012 at 5:40 pm #151431
Samuel F DoucetteParticipant
Let’s define micromanagement first. If you mean micromanagement = providing structure and guidance (ie, the “How to” vs the “What needs to be done”), then in certain situations it is good. A situation might be if you are a working level supervisor over a team of new analysts still learning the technical side of the job for which they are well-qualified to do. In this case, your team has talent but is still marching up the learning curve. Some of what is called “micromanagement” might be justified there. I prefer to call it “training and mentoring.”
If micromanagement = excessive control and oversight into the daily work habits of employees when they have proven capable of running projects successfully on their own, then micromanagement is definitely a bad thing leading to poor morale, pettiness, etc.
My philosophy is to treat my employees like the adult professionals they are until or unless they prove otherwise. The converse is, if you treat employees like kids instead of adults, don’t be surprised if they react to you like kids through back-biting, passive-aggressive behavior, shirking, etc.
February 4, 2012 at 6:58 pm #151429
Charles A. RayParticipant
In the long run, micromanagement does more harm than good. If an employee needs micromanagement, a mistake was made during hiring. Providing clear, detailed instructions, clear deadlines, and necessary training and equipment should do it for a person of average intelligence. If that doesn’t work, the problem is much deeper than can be solved by micromanaging, or doing the job for the employee. That, at least, has been my experience for nearly 50 years of leadership and supervision of all categories of employee, civilian and military.
February 4, 2012 at 9:30 pm #151427
I tend to agree.
February 6, 2012 at 4:28 pm #151425
Best boss I ever had taught me the value in Not micromanaging. He taught decision making skills. Make your best decision, if it is wrong we will discuss why and what you could do better. If you make the same wrong decision again, it’s a different discussion. Zero micromanaging. I now have other upper level managers that micromanage. Their good employees are coming to my unit and we are productive. This is the only benefit that I see from micromanaging – being able to hire their good staff. I manage like my first and best boss ever. Read quotes from General Patton. Empower the staff.
February 6, 2012 at 5:59 pm #151423
This is excellent, Jon. LOL I love the bi about being able to hire good staff from other people. Good people do jump from under micro-managers, don’t they?!
February 6, 2012 at 6:07 pm #151421
Allison – good points. Micromanagement is a boundary issue.
February 6, 2012 at 6:16 pm #151419
Samuel – Thank you for helping us to make the distinction. I believe it’s a boundary and control issue.
I like to think of micromanaging as a symptom. It alerts us to the fact that someone may be struggling with one or more passage in the leadership pipeline. It can be damaging to an organization if left unchecked, but I don’t think it’s uncommon or uncorrectable. If I were coaching a micro-manager, we would be talking about boundaries and how they move as we climb up the ladder. I’d leave things like control, trust and insecurity out of the discussion if possible. They are implied in the situation and can be a downer if given too much attention.
February 6, 2012 at 7:02 pm #151417
And that’s why micro-management is a problem. If it was dead-simple easy to differentiate from everything else, people would know when they’re doing it. As with so many undesirable behaviours, though, it’s those blasted fuzzy boundaries. People think they’re doing one thing but are actually doing another…and generally wondering why it isn’t working out as well as they thought it would.
One of the many reasons why self-awareness is an extremely useful competency for a manager to have.
February 7, 2012 at 1:54 am #151415
I have worked for several of these types of individuals. They appear to be strong and caring, intially, but this is quickly replaced with other, more formidable behaviors. Micromanagers appear to be those individuals who do not trust their staff, this in turn causes their staff to distrust them, their motives, and their words. A micromanger is one who has to be on top of everything and everyone every minute of the work day. This causes distress, distrust and discontent within line staff. Most of us go to work every day and do what is expected of us. Those who seek to micromanage are the same individuals who we would not willing follow anywhere in the real world, but are forced to follow due to circumstances beyond our control in the work place. However, there will always be certain individuals in any work environment who require extra time and attention. A micromanager is not made by monitoring one individual.
February 8, 2012 at 5:24 pm #151413
Micromanagement in disguise. Iinteresting, Deede. 🙂
So how can you recognize them before you find yourself in a situation?
February 15, 2012 at 8:40 pm #151411
I definitely am! I’m more than happy to receive constructive criticism, it just has to be when I’m ready. I can be very meticulous and don’t like people seeing anything that I don’t consider my best work.
March 13, 2012 at 4:12 pm #151409
Denise – forcing people to do things “the micromanager” way prevents evolution and can generate new or force the repeat of old mistakes. An excellent thought I hadn’t considered! Thanks for sharing!
You must be logged in to reply to this topic.