So You Do Micromanage – At Least Sometimes

Kevin P. Dincher

You read my post Beware of Micromanaging and thought, “Maybe I do micromanage a bit.”  Then you read my post Micromanagers are Like Vampires and thought, “Yes, I guess I do micromanage – at least sometimes – but I get results with my managerial style, so it must work”

Micromanagers like to “prove” that their approach works with a simple experiment:  they give an employee an assignment and then disappear until the deadline – in other words, they stop managing altogether.  An exceptionally confident employee may welcome the respite from constant oversight and run with the assignment — but that is not the case with most micromanaged workers.  Micromanagers erode their workers’ self-confidence.  Micromanaged workers become tentative; having learned that nothing they do by themselves is ever good enough, they become reluctant to make decisions on their own or take any action without direction or approval.  The manager’s experiment with withdrawing all management leaves them floundering.  As a result, they do one of two things:  either (a) they go to the manager to ask for direction before the deadline or (b) they struggle along to the deadline without any managerial support and come up with inadequate results.  In either case, the micromanager sees “proof” that without constant intervention workers flounder or fail.

The 5 Ws

Assuming you are getting the message that micromanaging is generally not good for your people or the health of your organization, don’t rush headlong into a commitment to stop micromanaging cold turkey.  That probably won’t work anyway; ingrained habits are hard to break.  It can be helpful to understand your micromanaging behavior better before making changes.

Use the 5 Ws – who, what, when, where and why – to gain a better understanding of your micromanaging behavior.

WHO? 

Some managers simply micromanage everyone.  Not all micromanagers, however, micromanage everyone or everyone to the same extent.  They may micromanage certain individuals, some groups of individuals, a particular work group or some departments.  Remember:  micromanaging is not all-or-nothing; it is not a case of either you micromanage or you don’t.  There are levels of micromanagement.  Check out Micromanagers are Like Vampires for the different levels of micromanagement.  Identify who you actually micromanage – and create a list.

WHAT?

Just as some managers micromanage everyone while others do not, some managers micromanage everything while others only micromanage some work, certain processes, or particular projects.  For each of the people and groups on your micromanaging list, identify specifically what they do that you micromanage.

WHEN?

While there are all-the-time micromanagers, some managers micromanage more at certain times than at others.  At times, this makes some sense—like a former client in a finance group who only micromanaged near the end of each quarter as deadlines loomed.  There are times, however, when the timing makes no sense at all – like a former client who only micromanaged in the morning.  Seriously.  Yes, I agree.  That is a bit bizarre.  For each of the people and groups on your list, identify when you micromanage them.  All the time?  At certain times of the day, week, month or quarter?

WHERE?

Micromanaging behavior can also be triggered by place—different geographies or facilities.  There are people who manage teams that are spread out across different regions who micromanage their workers in one region differently than those in others.  Some managers manage the same person very differently depending upon where they happen to be working at the time.

  • A CEO I know has two teams doing roughly the same work, one in the USA and one in his home country. He consistently micromanages the USA-based team but gives the team in his home country a great deal of independence.
  • A former client told me that her manager gave her a great deal of independence as long as she was working in the executive office building; but her work frequently took her to another company facility—and when it did, he became a micromanaging ogre.
  • Another client loved going on business trips because as soon as he was out of town his director stopped micromanaging him.

For each of the people and groups on your list, identify where you micromanage them.

 WHY?

Why is the toughest but perhaps most important of the 5 Ws.  Why gets to the underlying reason for your behavior.  There are, of course, many reasons why managers micromanage their people.  For example:

  • Sometimes it is personality—they just need to be in control—and the pressure to succeed drives them to increase that control.
  • Some managers truly believe that no one else knows as much as they do, is as talented as they are or can do a job as well as they can.
  • Other managers lack confidence in their ability to manage in any other way (which is not surprising since so few managers today receive training to be either managers or leaders). When challenges and pressures grow, so does their anxiety over their ability to manage—and they work all the harder to maintain control.
  • Sometimes micromanagers have risen up in an organization but struggle to let go of their old job because that is their comfort zone. Perhaps they think the person who replaced them isn’t good enough. They may know that they need to let go of the old job, but their replacement is not as experienced so they get involved and undermine the confidence and authority of their people.
  • There are managers who use micromanagement as a tool to terminate an employee.  They create standards that an employee is unable to meet and then feel justified in terminating the employee—instead of implementing a performance program to honestly measure an employee’s performance.

For each of the people and groups on your list, identify why you micromanage them.

The Patterns

Now look for patterns in your answers to the 5 Ws. The patterns will help you understand your micromanaging behavior.  The patterns tell you what triggers your micromanaging, give you an idea of what you really need to work on and where you may need to get some help to stop micromanaging.

Related Posts

Beware of Micromanaging

Micromanagers are like Vampires – They Drain Your Company of its Lifeblood


Kevin Dincher is an organization development consultant, professional development coach and educator with 30 years of experience that includes not only OD consulting but also work in adult education,  counseling psychology and crisis management, program and operations management, and human resources.

LinkedIn: Kevin Dincher

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Posted in Leadership, Management, Organization Development (OD). Tags: . Comments Off on So You Do Micromanage – At Least Sometimes

Micromanagers are like Vampires – They Drain Your Company of its Lifeblood

Kevin P. Dincher

In its 2013 State of the Global Workforce report, Gallup called engaged workers “the lifeblood of their organizations.”  Companies with the highest levels of employee engagement have significantly higher productivity, profitability and customer ratings, much lower turnover and absenteeism, and fewer safety incidents than their peers and competitors.  If that is true—and who am I to argue with Gallup?—then one of the ways to drain your company of its lifeblood is to micromanage your workers.

Lately I have been hearing quite a bit of  chatter—complaining, really—about managers who micromanage.  Apparently, people do not like being micromanaged.  Top executives and star performers find it insulting, and anyone with any sort of a positive work ethic finds it stifling.  Being micromanaged tells them that their managers do not trust their work or judgment—so they shut down.  They stop making suggestions, and they stop doing their best work.  They put in time but little else.  Moreover, their apathy is contagious, affecting not only their own productivity but also that of their colleagues.  Micromanaged employees easily become disengaged.

In CEOs:  Beware of Micromanaging I borrowed six questions from The Consequences of Micromanaging that managers can ask themselves to get a sense that they might be micromanagers.

  1. Do I spend a considerable amount of time telling employees how to do a job correctly and specifically telling them what to do?
  2. Do I devote a lot of time to overseeing the projects of my subordinates?
  3. Am I irritated when subordinates make decisions without consulting me first?
  4. Do I sometimes wish I were back in my previous lower-level job?
  5. Am I the one who signs the checks?
  6. Am I spending more time with operations then planning my company’s strategy and growth?

If you answer YES to two of these questions, then you are probably micromanaging your employees and may need some help to get out of the micromanaging trap.  But let’s take this mini-assessment a little further.

autonomyLevels of Management and Autonomy

Like many things in life, micromanaging is not all-or-nothing; it is not a case of either you micromanage or you don’t.  There are levels of micromanagement.  Another way to think of micromanagement is the degree of autonomy (and the power and authority that go along with autonomy) that your employees have to do their work.  At one end (Level 1) is total micromanagement; employees have no autonomy at all.  At the other end (Level 5) employees have the highest level of autonomy.

Assess Your Level of Micromanagement

Think of just one routine project that you tasked a staff member or work group with recently.  Do not pick an unusual situation that necessarily demanded a higher than routine level of involvement from you—like work you assigned an intern or a new and inexperienced hire.  And don’t pick some out of the ordinary and highly critical situation.  Stick to something routine.

Now, thinking about just this one routine project, read the descriptions of the degree of management and autonomy operating at each level combination of management and autonomy — and identify which level explains your management of that project.

Level 1

Level 1 is pretty much the zenith of micromanagement. Employees have no autonomy at all. You keep all the power and authority, and you control all aspects of the project. You assign the project, and tell your workers what to do and how to do it. The employees may (or may not) be tasked with doing some research on the project—but they do not make any decisions or have any input into what will be done They report their research to you so that you can identify possible alternative courses of action, decide what will be done, and tell them how the work will be done. You monitor every aspect and detail.

Level 2

Level 2 is slightly, but significantly, different from Level 1. You still hold the power and authority to make all decisions.  You monitor and control all aspects of the project.  However, you allow your employees some input into the decisions you make. The employees do the needed research, identify alternative courses of action and maybe even suggest a preferred one for implementation. You decide which one to implement and how.

Level 3

There is a significant difference between Level 2 and Level 3. At Level 2 employees have input, but at Level 3 they also have power and authority to make decisions.  You, however, retain the power and authority to approve or disapprove any and all decisions before they can act. The employees do the research, and they decide which course of action they intend to take. They report to you—and wait for your approval before taking any action.

Level 4

At Level 4 you take a major step away from micromanaging. At Level 4 you hand over real decision-making power and authority to employees—but you hold on to the power to “put on the breaks” at any time. The employees do the research, report what they intend to do—and move forward unless at some point you say “no” or “stop.”  Of course, things can get very tricky here: your employees need to know ahead of time what might cause you to say, “no” or “stop” as the project moves forward so they don’t find themselves wasting time, energy and resources heading down a blind alley. Better work on those communication skills if you are going to ease up on the micromanaging!

 Level 5

Level 5 is where you really stop micromanaging. You communicate the desired goals and outcomes, the time constraints and the available resources—and then let the employees run with the project. They do the research, develop a plan, take action, and periodically update you on progress. They get help from you when they have questions or when they run into obstacles (because good managers remove obstacles). They give you progress updates, but the project is in their hands. Level 5 is the point where employees feel they have “arrived”. They work on their own and take full responsibility and ownership for their work and projects. They feel that they have earned your trust. They do their best work and are at their most creative and innovative.

One Swallow does not a Summer Make

So, where did the project you were thinking about fall on the scale of 1 to 5? Since you should never assume something is true just because you have seen one piece of evidence for it, select three or four other projects and do the same assessment.  (And, of course, if you are truly serious about getting a handle on your micromanagement, ask some of the people who work for you to do the same assessment from the perspective of the level of autonomy they feel they have when you give them work to do!)

Is there a pattern in your assessment?  Are you generally somewhere in the range of Level 4 and Level 5?  If so, then you are doing pretty well when it comes to micromanaging– and just need to learn who to be more consistently at Level 5.  However, if you are generally in the range of Levels 1, 2 and 3 – well, you need to consider that you may be standing in your employees’ way and need to take a step back so your company can move forward.


Kevin Dincher is an organization development consultant, professional development coach and educator with 30 years of experience that includes not only OD consulting but also work in adult education,  counseling psychology and crisis management, program and operations management, and human resources.

LinkedIn: Kevin Dincher

Posted in Leadership, Management, Organization Development (OD). Tags: , , , , . Comments Off on Micromanagers are like Vampires – They Drain Your Company of its Lifeblood

CEOs: Beware of Micromanaging

Kevin P. Dincher

A marketing consultant I know posted on his Facebook page today:  “Always wonder why some CEOs would rather diddle with things on a web page or other marketing minutia than deal with really important business strategy issues or building a company team.”  While I know this was more an expression of his current frustration with a client than a real question, it got me thinking—and I suspect the answer may be relatively simple:  Entrepreneurs stay in startup mode too long.

Entrepreneurs are by nature doers, and while in startup mode they are directly involved in just about every aspect of their companies.  That is how their companies are born, succeed and grow.  As a company grows, however, its leadership needs change, and some entrepreneurs have trouble shifting gears.  They find it difficult to shift from doing to leading, and so they become stuck micromanaging.  The problem is that micromanaging by a CEO can mean the downfall of a young company.

Micromanaging Kills

When CEOs micromanage their staff and subordinates, productivity and creativity suffer.

  • Having control makes people happy; but employees who are micromanaged rarely feel they have control over their work. Unhappy employees are less productive and less creative than are happy employees.
  • Micromanagement tells employees that you do not trust their work and judgment. When they realize that you are not listening to them, they shut down, stop making suggestions, and stop being straight with you.
  • Micromanaged employees become disengaged. They resent your role as manager and do not become proficient at doing their jobs. They lose the willingness to make sacrifices; they put in time but little else. Their apathy is contagious, affecting not only their own productivity but also that of their colleagues. Micromanaged employees become confused and angry, and they suddenly quit, going work for another company.

Additionally, the more that CEOs micromanage, the less time and energy they have to give to the critical work of a CEO.  If a CEO focuses on tactics, then no one is attending to vision, direction and strategy.  If a CEO keeps busy with day-to-day operations, then no one is taking the long-range perspective.  If a CEO is spending time telling employees exactly how to do their jobs, then no one is inspiring and motivating them or building a company team.

Are You a Micromanaging CEO? 

Ask yourself six questions (The Consequences of Micromanaging).

  1. Do I spend a considerable amount of time telling employees how to do a job correctly and specifically telling them what to do?
  2. Do I devote a lot of time to overseeing the projects of my subordinates?
  3. Am I irritated when subordinates make decisions without consulting me first?
  4. Do I sometimes wish I were back in my previous lower-level job?
  5. Am I the one who signs the checks?
  6. Am I spending more time with operations then planning my company’s strategy and growth?

If you answered YES to two of these questions, then you are probably micromanaging your employees.

One Antidote to Micromanaging:  Delegating

One antidote to micromanaging is learning to delegate.  Delegation is a critical skill both for personal success and for the success of the company you lead, and I have written before about the importance of delegating and about what delegating is and what it isn’t (Are You a Work Hoarder; The Beginning Delegator; and Know Why You are Delegating).  Like any other leadership skill, you can’t acquire it by reading a book (Leadership is Like Skiing:  You Can’t Learn It by Reading a Book).  You might intellectually understand delegating after reading a book or an article, but that doesn’t mean you can do it. You have to unlearn old habits, default reactions, and assumptions about human nature in order to adopt new and different choices and behaviors.  That takes time and effort—and you may need someone to help you.

Some Things to Start Doing Now

Even though it may take some time for you to develop your delegating skills, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything you can do in the meanwhile.  Here are three simple (but still challenging) things you can do to start curtailing your micromanaging.

  • Pick your battles. Let go of the minutia. There are more important things for you to obsess over than a logo, the colors on your website, or how many power outlets you need in your booth at a trade show. When you are hunting big game, don’t swat mosquitoes.
  • Stop making purchasing decisions. Obviously, controlling costs is essential to the success of any business—but a quick and easy way to alienate your employees is to micromanage purchasing decisions. Instead, figure out what dollar amount you’re comfortable with for a particular project and allow team members to make financial decisions on their own as long as they stay within the budget.
  • Let people meet—without you. Often micromanaging CEOs aren’t comfortable with their people meeting without them. Rather than just attending strategic meetings, micromanaging CEOs sit in on (and control) tactical meetings. Let your people meet without you—and without needing to get permission from you to meet. Instead, get a weekly briefing from department heads or project leaders.

Related Posts

Micromanagers are like Vampires – They Drain Your Company of its Lifeblood

So You do Micromanage – At Least Sometimes

Are You a Work Hoarder?

The Beginning Delegator

Know Why You are Delegating

Leadership is Like Skiing:  You Can’t Learn It by Reading a Book


Kevin Dincher is an organization development consultant, professional development coach and educator with 30 years of experience that includes not only OD consulting but also work in adult education,  counseling psychology and crisis management, program and operations management, and human resources.

LinkedIn: Kevin Dincher

 

Posted in Leadership, Management, Organization Development (OD). Tags: , , , , . Comments Off on CEOs: Beware of Micromanaging
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