The Dangers of Micromanagement

bill-lumberghIf you’ve spent a fair amount of time in the industry, you understand people’s management styles and methodologies vary greatly from person to person. Some managers are more apathetic and hands off while other function deep in the trenches, taking an active role in the day-to-day operations and life cycle of the myriad of projects in their scope.

How much or how little a manager participates in the actions surrounding a project can vary. Some managers are actually what is referred to as ‘contributing managers’, whereby they have supervision over employees but also contribute to the deliverable in the form of tangible effort. (i.e. a manager that still actively codes for a software application)

For those of us who have functioned as individual contributors, the active participation of our manager can be both a blessing and a curse in various circumstances. Too little participation can cause one to feel isolated or un-involved. Too much participation can leave one feeling continually scrutinized or left to feel un-trustworthy.

With the above being said, where does that fine line exist between apathy and effective participation and how can one gauge if they are not going far enough or going too far?

What Is Micromanagement?

How one defines micromanagement can vary, but ultimately, it can be summarized as follows:

“Micromanaging is a type of management style where the individual in charge of a specific team (supervisor) closely observes and controls the actions and efforts of an employee. The manager not only dictates actions on larger issues, but also focusses and provides instructions on the smaller tasks, no matter how minute.”

In the simplest terms, a micro-manager does not allow an employee to function autonomously in any capacity.

What Are the Signs of Micromanagement?

Spotting micromanagement can often be tricky to assess. It is not always obvious if ones actions are being too intrusive or not. Nonetheless, here are a few key areas to consider as being warning signs that micromanagement is manifesting in your team:

  • Communications between the manager and employees seem strained or limited in banter
  • Manager assumes their knowledge supercedes that of their team, regardless of functional knowledge
  • Employees begin to become hesitant to provide input or offer suggestions in team meetings
  • Manager displays a lack of trust in the ability of his/her team to deliver
  • Manager becomes overwhelmed in their day-to-day duties due to inability to delegate tasks effectively
  • Manager requires endless stream of status updates and reports from his/her team
  • Team meetings are dominated by the manager speaking the majority of the time

Now depending on factors, not all the above requirements immediately denote that the manager is micromanaging. However, for a manager of tenure with a seasoned team, the above warning signs should offer pause and re-assessment of management strategy.

Why is Micromanaging ‘Bad’?

Despite what appears to be the obvious, not all managers consider their overly aggressive and intrusive management style to be a detriment. Most often cite their need to deliver effectively as justification for their micromanagement. Yet in actuality, their efforts will often end up undermining their ability to produce results.

According to a study produced by the Journal of Experimental Psychology (http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/2011-09721-001/), findings concluded that being continuously scrutinized and monitored will reduce the employee’s working memory and actually cause them to become more easily distracted. This makes it far more difficult for employees to develop new skills and adapt to new situations. This can ultimately lead to a vicious cycle whereby the employee begins to under-perform and thereby gets additional scrutiny and micromanagement from their supervisor.

To drive the point further, an article produced by USA Today (http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/jobcenter/workplace/bruzzese/2011-08-03-micromanaging-makes-you-frantic-and-less-productive_n.htm) from a survey conducted demonstrated that micromanagement makes employees more frantic and less production.

One final note: the ultimate drawback of excessive micromanagement is the loss of good employees. Usually, a micromanager does not necessarily single out one individual; they micromanage across the board, including focusing on those employees who are top talent and very productive in their own right. The consequence here is that when pushed, valuable employees will often leave to take their business elsewhere, thereby leaving a large hole that will be difficult to fill. Continued loss of good employees will further decrease the likelihood of the team being able to produce results and will also likely decrease morale further, which will have already taken a hit from the excessive micromanagement.

How Does One Combat Micromanagement?

As mentioned earlier, recognizing micromanagement is not easy. Often times, the problems associated with it will manifest slowly, thereby making initial evidence difficult to discern. It is important to recognize that in order to combat micromanagement, some level of proactiveness should already be present. From the standpoint of both proactive and reactive measures, here are a few hints on how to both deal with and reduce the likelihood of micromanagement occurring:

  • Acquire Feedback – Through the use of one-on-one’s, skip level reviews and surveys, ensure that employees have a mechanism in place to provide feedback regarding their management structure and supervisors.
  • Schedule Employee Time – Micromanagement can be intrusive if it is sudden and unexpected. However, having a schedule in place for when you engage with certain employees can make discussions more routine, thereby reducing the likelihood of ‘going overboard’.
  • Help Develop Your Team – Often times, a manager will have the need to fill perceived ‘gaps’ they feel exist in their structure. Ultimately, it is important to develop an internal team infrastructure and allocate responsibilities accordingly. This will help take burden off the manager and also give the employees a much stronger feeling of self-worth, as they can more actively contribute.
  • Know When to Micromanage – As counter-intuitive as it may sound, sometimes it is necessary to be more diligent on monitoring progress on a specific project or task. Often times, this is usually due to their being either urgency on the task or it has been flagged as high priority. In those cases, be up front with the team that you may require more interactions with them to ensure everything is on track. But be mindful of where the ‘line’ exists. Avoid scrutinizing their decisions on how key tasks should be accomplished unless absolutely warranted.

**Conclusions**

As indicated above, micromanagement can cause severe issues when it comes to team functionality, employee retention and overall morale. Recognizing micromanagement and having steps in place to mitigate it will go a long way towards ensuring that the team and organization as a whole can operate cohesively. Note that micromanagement can manifest at any time, so being proactive about keeping it at bay rather than attempting to deal with it after the fact will be far more beneficial in the long run.