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Are you a micromanager? Why dropping the reins might boost company growth

Micromanagement is like the Miley Cyrus of the business world. Sure, it can be a force for good – but, if care is not taken, you might find it crashing through your office wall atop a wrecking ball.

Indeed, micromanagement can be beneficial in certain short-term situations, such as in the training of new employees, when controlling high-risk issues, and where tight leadership is essential.1 I, for one, would prefer to be ‘micromanaged’ out of the way of a grenade, for example (noting, of course, that micromanagement can be an issue in the military, too2). Yet, like a disappointed Yoda might quip, “a path to the dark side, micromanagement is”.

Micromanagement is generally viewed as largely negative (and not just by the Jedi council), owing to its propensity for harming employee morale, team productivity, and even the micromanagers own wellbeing, over time.1,3 Shockingly, research has placed it among the top three reasons that employees resign, and it can ultimately cause decreased growth potential in entire departments.1

Clearly, there are varying degrees of micromanaging. On one end of the spectrum, you might find yourself asking for frequent updates;3 on the other, you could be asking your employees to link their bodies up to heartbeat-reading sensors, as one CEO has apparently been experimenting with,4 presumably in an effort to recreate that episode of Doctor Who in which the Cybermen infiltrate the global economy. We’re going to bet that most of us are quite safe from siding with this end of the spectrum, but do we always know when we are micromanaging? What specific actions or behaviours constitute micromanagement?

How to tell if you are a micromanager  

To answer this question, Harvard Business Review (HBR) put together a list of signs – symptoms, if you will – of micromanagement.3 Their list includes:3

  • Never being fully satisfied with deliverables
  • Often feeling frustrated because you would have done a task differently
  • Having a strong focus for detail and taking pride or pain in making corrections
  • Constantly wanting updates from team members
  • Preferring to be cc’d on emails

However, don’t worry too much if you can see some of your own behaviours echoed in this list. The main problem with micromanagers, HBR argues, is that they apply the same level of intensity to every task, even when such an approach is not warranted3 – like a surgeon carving the turkey, their grandson crying out in frustration while waiting for the methodical dissection to conclude. The author goes on to state their conclusion about this level of scrutiny: “You need to stop”.3

What can be done about micromanagement?

It is apparent that – in many cases – cutting down on micromanagement is likely to be beneficial.1,3 However, changing behaviour associated with micromanagement can be a lengthy and difficult process.1 But fear not: one publication lays out the first step.1 According to Collins & Collins,1 the process begins with realising that there is a behaviour that needs to be changed and understanding how it can negatively impact the department. Then, the real change will come, according to the business power duo, with the proper delegation of tasks: this may be the ‘primary key’ for combating micromanagement behaviour. 1 Their other suggestions for how you might combat micromanagement include: 1

  • Developing a vision of what the department will look like in the future
  • Hiring people with the right skills for the job
  • Developing a policy and procedures manual
  • Developing effective communication between managers and employees
  • Expecting some employee errors

With a commitment to focussing on the big picture and on motivating our employees, HBR argues, we can be the best, most effective managers that we can be.3 So, this Christmas, is it time to begin letting go of the reins, and focussing on the reindeer? Don’t forget to take a sprinkling of your festive charm with you into the new year, and together, we can lock micromanagement out in the cold for good.

References

  1. Collins SK, Collins KS. Micromanagement – a costly management style. Radiol Manage 2002;24(6):32–35.
  2. Micromanagement can cripple a command. Available at: https://www.ausa.org/articles/micromanagement-can-cripple-command. Accessed November 2020.
  3. Signs That You’re a Micromanager. Available at: https://hbr.org/2014/11/signs-that-youre-a-micromanager. Accessed November 2020.
  4. The new cool thing for tech bros is workplace “biohacking” with 36-hour fasts. Available at: https://qz.com/717100/the-new-cool-thing-for-tech-bros-is-workplace-biohacking-with-36-hour-fasts/. Accessed November 2020.