When you micromanage employees, you are sending the message that you either don’t trust your team or you don’t trust yourself.
We hear all the time how horrible it is to work for a micromanager and that no one wants to be micromanaged. You and I both could probably make a good argument for how some employees deserve to be micromanaged because they are unaccountable, poor performers and just behave in ways that elicit higher levels of scrutiny. I know from personal and professional experience that some people indeed can bring out the inner control freak in anyone. So I will start here with acknowledging that micromanagement is not inherently bad in all circumstances. But yes, it is typically bad, and it will backfire when applied unjustifiably with employees.
I’ve identified five key micromanager behaviors that are commonly brought up with teams in the leadership development and culture building work I do. Employees share that these behaviors are extremely annoying and irk them so much that they want to run away from their supervisors or even leave the company altogether. This is how a manager proves to everyone that he is indeed a micromanager:
1. You try to manage people as opposed to lead them.
Instead of leading, inspiring and positively influencing your team, your management style comes off as smothering and controlling. You are not only telling everyone what to do, but you are precisely telling them how to go about doing it even when they already know how. You aren’t leaving space for them to define and create enough of it. When you make project assignments, you offer up your own methods and protocols when you should really just define what success looks like and then free your staff to determine the path to get there and manage their own project deliverables. Open the floor for questions. When people don’t know how to do something, you should lead and guide as necessary while still allowing them to manage their own work.
2. You tend to shut down ideas that you don’t propose.
Instead of being open to new, different or innovative ways of thinking, you stifle creativity. You are gung ho to give direction and offer advice but resist receiving feedback yourself and don’t often elicit input. You aren’t showing that you are open to change; that you are open to the possibility that someone else – even someone with less experience – might actually have a better idea than you. You are not open to let other people shine so eventually people stop offering up anything new at all. They end up sitting around waiting for your wonderful ideas before acting. This eventually paralyzes your team members from sharing their unique brilliance with you.
3. You hover excessively in an attempt to control and oversee everything.
Instead of being periodically available or responding to requests from staff when necessary, you appear to hang around all the time. You excessively make requests for updates, engage in frequent inspections and never miss a chance to check in and check up on progress. You aren’t showing that you have confidence that people will perform without being constantly watched or reminded to do so. This could demoralize your team and create an environment where employees respond with lower performance and sneak around on non-work activities while only jumping into action when the boss shows up. Surely, you want to ask yourself if this is really the kind of culture you want to create.
4. You intrude on employees’ lives, professionally and personally.
Instead of building relationships by showing a sincere and general interest in your employees’ lives and ensuring you understand their professional needs and goals, you come off as way too intrusive and downright nosy. Professionally, you want to know what time people get in, what time they leave, what time they go to lunch, what time they return, how many breaks they take and how long the breaks were. The best measurement for performance is deliverables. Focus on performance results rather than how much time people clock in. Personally, you may be asking about private details around marriage, dating, partying, children and health that go way beyond the pale of normal professional, working relationships. If employees offer up details about their personal lives, that’s fine. But if they want privacy and you still feel like you have a need or right to know, you are doing too much and may actually be making people very uncomfortable.
5. You explain and direct everything down to the nth degree.
You not only tell staff what to do but specifically how to go about doing it even with experienced and seasoned employees who have already proven their mettle many times before. This can get extreme from telling people how to talk in a meeting to directing them how to write a memo and what specific words to use in a report or even what exact phrases to write on a presentation slide. You direct so much of their actions that employees stop even thinking of their own process or methods because they believe that you will just override them and make them do it your way in the end. The result here is that employees bank all their talents and wait around for the “control freak” to direct them on the right way to do everything.
Why do micromanagers micromanage?
“When you micromanage employees, you are sending the message that you either don’t trust your team or you don’t trust yourself.”
More often than not it comes down to trust, and this lack of trust drives managers to unreasonably try to control everything. They seek to expand their circle of control in an attempt to alleviate insecurities and gain the confidence that they clearly don’t already have in themselves, their staff or both. The result is that employees feel that you don’t trust them so they end up not trusting you either. They also become resentful, and this resentment leads to decreased performance and engagement. Then the cycle continues.
As I stated earlier, sometimes an employee might truly need a little more guidance and direction for how to deliver on a particular assignment or project just based on limited or narrow experiences or maybe even performance issues. In those instances, it would be appropriate to monitor more closely, provide performance coaching or create a plan of action to keep an employee focused and on track for deliverables.
However, when the employee has already demonstrated the proper level of understanding and competence based on past performance or experience, supervisors really should provide greater levels of autonomy and then review the results for success. Even if an employee has not done a “specific” task before, if he is confident, willing to try and has demonstrated the propensity to succeed, you should let him have at it. Supervisors and managers need to ensure they are accessible and approachable and communicate regularly without obsessing over every detail.
What should you do instead of micromanage employees?
Trust your employees and delegate more. Since my philosophy is that we should lead people and manage things, I am of the mind that any kind of management of people and their talents is basically micromanagement and should be avoided as much as possible. The manager should define outcomes, manage the budget, manage the program and manage the system, but lead and supervise the people (but I digress).
The best thing a supervisor can do instead of micromanage is define success, provide resources, remove obstacles and get out of the way. Effective supervisors trust their team members to deliver. If you want to get the best out of your staff, they must be free to think, experiment and create.
If you are an effective leader, you know it’s better to share an outline of what the ends should look like, discuss communication plans and performance expectations and then let your team shine! Your staff will come to see that you actually do trust them, and that will ultimately reap incalculable rewards for you and your organization.