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Have you heard of micromanagement?

Project Management

Dec 17, 2019 - 5 minute read

Magda Richmond Digital Marketing Specialist

She's specialising in delivering the right message via the right channel, using a variety of digital tools. 

See all Magda's posts

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Have you ever been told at work to change something or do something differently without ever being told why, simply because your manager or your manager’s manager felt the need to put in their own two cents?   It can result in a project that has been reviewed and revised so many times, by so many people, that eventually you didn’t feel like putting your name on it. This may be an example of micromanagement.

What it is

We all like sharing opinions and playing the expert. But let’s face it, just because we have a LinkedIn account doesn’t make us a social media guru. Just because we use mobile apps doesn’t mean we know what the best way of designing them is. It applies to so many disciplines and we all are guilty of micromanaging from time to time.

There is more than just one type of micromanagement. There are people who after reading an article or watching a video tutorial will tell you they know better how to do things you have been trained to do. There are also managers who expect you to perform in a very specific and standardized way, “their way”, simply because they don’t like changes. And my personal “favorite”, people who are not involved in a process but rather show up at the very last moment, turn everything upside down and change the entire concept (just because they have the final word).

What may be the result

If you've ever had a boss (or even coworkers) with a micromanaging attitude, you know how demotivating it feels. Sometimes it can even lead to questioning your own expertise.

Such behavior doesn’t encourage people to innovate, experiment or explore the unknown, because they are afraid of making mistakes. And companies without passionate and innovative employees are less willing to revolutionize the market.

Imagine that each layer of additional reviewing and reporting slows down the entire process, lowers the passion and excitement, enlarges bureaucracy and limits agility 😉 No one benefits from that approach (besides someone’s ego 😉).

Managers are promoted for a reason - they are the ones who should focus on strategic goals and build their teams based on trust and qualifications. All in all if you hired people for your team it probably means you saw expertise in them. You went through a series of interviews, looked through many resumes and chose those who matched your needs and preferences.

The other side of the coin

But is micromanagement always a bad thing? No. As usual, it depends on the circumstances and what we compare it to.

I don’t know too many people who enjoy being overly observed and controlled. I am not a fan of zero supervision and complete autonomy neither. I only believe that good leaders know (or should be trained to know) how to empower their employees and where their involvement is needed.

There is nothing bad about leaders being involved in projects, leaders learning new things and guiding people they work with. Digging into your subordinates’ work can help you better understand their daily struggles and challenges. But truth be told, there are things that are crucial to the business and require management to engage, and there are issues that can be simply delegated with no harm to any party.

Fortunately, micromanagement doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of trust.

Some people may not be aware of their own micromanaging of others. They may feel attached to the project/ product and thus want to control its outcomes. Some managers don’t want to lose touch with the business and day to day work.

I've read that some of the world greatest leaders described themselves as nano managers.  But just because they felt passionate about their products and were involved in their development on all stages, doesn’t mean they didn’t rely on experts around, who helped them achieve great success.

I don’t mind managers who pay attention to detail, who share their opinion, who set high standards and have great expectations. A good micromanager who knows their stuff can prevent drawbacks, failures and delays. I do mind however managers who think they could always do everything better themselves or that they always know best.

We can ask ourselves what type of boss we would rather have: the one who doesn’t know a thing about our job, delegates all responsibilities and is not even aware of how much work it took us to complete it; or maybe the one who constantly looks over our shoulder, criticizes our work and takes the credit for it. Most likely we would like to have someone in between, someone with good knowledge of the field but also with a strategic mindset.  

Golden mean

There is work to be done on both sides. You can keep proving that you know your stuff and that you are an expert as long as you want. But if your manager doesn’t realize when they're crossing the line with micromanagement, you will eventually burn out.

Those of us who are managers can ask ourselves a question: - am I inspiring my employees and guiding them while trusting their decisions, or - am I persuading them with my own ideas, controlling them and making them anxious of the end result.

Just to be clear, not only managers can be guilty of micromanagement. There are employees who, out of fear of failure or lack of experience, won’t make any decision without a manager’s signoff.  Moreover, there are people who never take initiative and do only what they have been asked to do. There are also people who don’t care and just carry out orders.

In my opinion, taking responsibility for what we do is a very important factor in work motivation. When we are given some autonomy, we are more likely to do our best, learn new things and constantly improve. If you are one of these people who don’t like taking responsibility and always wait for your boss’s sign-off, try at least once leaving your comfort zone and doing something the way you would if you were your own boss 😊 Maybe it would bring you more satisfaction.

Another crucial ability when dealing with micromanagement is the ability to give good feedback. When asked by the coworkers for an opinion we should try to back it up with some reasoning instead of a simple “I don’t like it”, “please change it”.  When we feel like we are being micromanaged we should try to challenge the opinions we disagree with. We can always ask questions, explain why we did something in a particular way, etc. Conversation is our ally here.

The takeaway 

There is a fine line between good and bad micromanagement. Managers should allow their employees to take some risks and employees shouldn’t fear taking them. Summing it up, here are the three essentials that we can start with to make sure we only face good micromanagement 😊 - replace the culture of fear with empowerment - allow decentralized decision making - focus on values more than rules and performance

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Magda Richmond Digital Marketing Specialist

She's specialising in delivering the right message via the right channel, using a variety of digital tools. 

See all Magda's posts

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