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
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