Knowing how much supervision to give can be difficult; too little, and people could be lost and unproductive, but too MUCH, and you could end up with freaked-out, demoralized or invisible employees.
Scene: A person in business attire, industriously plodding away at a project. *Cue creepy music* He looks up, peaks over his left shoulder, then over his right. He realizes with terror… someone is watching him! He is being managed from INSIDE his personal space bubble!!
Anyone who has been micromanaged knows it is no fun. It has different effects on different people. Some will do anything possible to try to earn the trust they feel like they are being denied (which is great, until they become burned out). Some will become dependent on micromanagement, and won’t dare make a move without approval. Others might react by resisting, arguing and generally trying to be unpleasant back. Because, the truth is, being micromanaged is incredibly unpleasant.
Why do people micromanage?
Usually micromanagers are driven by a need to control situations and a fear of being accountable for other people’s (poor) work. They might do it because:
- They used to do the job, and were great at it, which is why they were promoted to manager, so they must know the best way.
- They see someone failing and want to stop it or try to help.
- The assignment is a really big deal, and they can’t afford to have someone mess it up.
- They did that job first and they miss it.
If the point is ensuring success for the company, what’s the problem with micromanaging? Why stop?
- It stifles learning and innovation. Micromanaging breeds resentment and causes people to feel untrusted and unfulfilled…so they leave.
- So skills can be evaluated properly. If employees never have the chance to try, how will they learn?
- So you don’t support or create the kind of employee who needs to be micromanaged. Again, if employees never have a chance to try, how will you know what they are capable of? If human resources aren’t being used, then time and money are being wasted.
What if employees make mistakes? Good. Making mistakes is a really effective way to learn.
What if they make LOTS of mistakes? Awesome! Then you will know that it is time to reassign or terminate, instead of having someone sit there while you do their work for them.
How will I know they are doing it right? You trusted them enough to hire them. Trust that your training is good. Trust that your instructions are clear. See a pattern here? For most adults, trust is kind of a big deal.
OK – so I’m a Mirco-Manager…how do I stop?
It can be scary to step back and let other people try, and possibly fail, so start gradually. Identify the least important processes, delegate, assign them and walk away. Compare people’s skills to the risks of the assignment. An unskilled employee completing a high risk task should be closely managed, (or better yet, the project should be reassigned to a more seasoned staff member).
Is micro-managing ever ok?
Sometimes, here are a few examples:
- When there is a new hire. Even someone with tons of experience will need guidance and support while they learn the ropes.
- When there is a real problem. A project with potential legal ramifications or high financial costs should at least have regular checkpoints and audits.
- If an employee is being retrained or is under a performance improvement plan, it is important to review and report on their progress.
Even in these situations though, it is best to be available and helpful, a mentor and an encouraging coach. Not, you know… a horror movie stalker.