I was micromanaged for a few years and I had no idea how disempowering it was until I experienced it firsthand.
For me, it boiled down to five key impacts. If you have been or are currently micromanaged, you should recognise them, and if you don’t or haven’t been micromanaged before: pay close attention.
But what if you’re already in the situation? I’ll also share some tips from my personal and professional experience on how to manage it; after all, most micromanagers don’t do it intentionally, they know no different and are trying to achieve the best outcome possible. They want to help people perform and do things right – only it must be their way.
Micromanagers want to control every minutiae of the project.
To do so they look over your shoulder every step of the way and check in excessively to monitor what you are doing. Often, they will complete the task themselves or redo what you have done.
This has negative, and sometimes destructive, team consequences such as:
- Disempowerment: No matter how much experience you may have, micromanagement can completely disempower you and your role.
- Confidence: My confidence was eroded and this impacted my ability to complete some of the most mundane tasks without worrying about what my manager would say.
- Fear and doubt: The culture in the team as a result was one of fear — fear of making decisions, fear of saying or writing the wrong thing, fear that everything I had experienced stood for naught and fear I wasn’t good enough.
- Trust: It was rapidly eroded. I questioned whether my manager trusted anything I did, and then I started questioning my abilities which led to a lack of motivation.
- Culture: The team started becoming dysfunctional, fearful and unhappy. Worst still, people left.
There could be any number of reasons people micromanage:
- They do not want to lose touch or control
- They are perfectionists and their way is the only way
- They fear letting go and giving people responsibility
- They do not want to let go of old responsibilities or the way they did things
- They believe by micromanaging they are helping you get ahead.
Having been micromanaged, I know how hard it is to overcome. Make no mistake, I didn’t apply all the solutions I propose below, but all or some of them may help you manage better the stifling impact of your micromanager:
1. Shared ownership
Get the team to encourage a more collaborative approach and a better understanding of what is required. Agree as a team on what constitutes success and what is expected from each team member to achieve it. Also agree, as a team, how and who will monitor progress. If the micromanager starts stepping in again (which they will) then at the weekly team meeting call out what was agreed up front and question why the process changed. This way the conversation focuses on the process and not the manager. Delegation will fail if the manager and the team member do not have a meeting of minds or a good understanding of what the outcome or process to that outcome looks like.
“The clearer you can be in the beginning the less opportunity the micromanager has to start nit-picking.”
2. Recognition and reward
Pre-agree what you will reward along the journey. Your aim should be to recognise team members’ strengths and some of the small wins along the way. These could be goals reached, good performance, sound decisions, collaborative efforts and the like.
3. Set clear targets
Insist that the team and all the individuals in that team are all clear on what outcomes are expected of them, the time frame, and the check-in process along the way. Vague responsibilities are fodder for a micromanager so avoid them at all costs.
4. Clarity on ownership
Ask upfront who owns this project. If it is the micromanager, then clarify that and make it clear what the team members’ roles are to help the manager deliver.
5. Ask questions
Ask lots of questions of your manager at the start and during the project. This is managing up, and you can save a lot of pain by clarifying, along the way, what the manager expects.
6. Could it be you?
Ask yourself whether the problem really is your manager. Ask yourself whether any of your actions may be contributing to you being micromanaged. This is especially important if you are the only one being micromanaged. If so, think about what you could do differently to change the behaviour of your manager.
The fastest way to lose talent is to micromanage them.
We all know how hard talent is to find, let alone keep, so organisations can ill afford to harbour micromanagers. The day of the micromanager should be well and truly over, and where and if they still operate, organisations should be investing in training to rid themselves of this negative management trait once and for all.
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