There’s a saying in the service industry about dusting lightbulbs. Do it and ambience takes care of itself. It’s about focusing on meticulous details to improve the overall, rather than going round wiping muck off fixtures.
The problem is that some absolute units have warped that logic and taken it to heart. They use it as an excuse to sit over your shoulder, making sure they’ve got their mitts in every little thing you do.
As a result, they often miss the forest because the trees are in the way.
While writing this, I tried to find a list of pros and cons of micromanagement.
I couldn’t find any pros.
Apart from guff like “micromanaging allows you to stay up to speed and in control of your team member’s actions, ensuring standards of quality are adhered to at every level”.
Except that isn’t a pro. It’s a definition. It’s like job specs that put “work in a fast-paced environment” under ‘benefits’. What else? Running water? Solid walls?!
Instead, I found a tonne of cons. Like hundreds. But not a great deal of guidance. So I decided to offer some.
And first on the list is figuring out why it’s happening.
Micromanagement’s essentially a malfunction in delegation. There’s only two reasons you’re experiencing it:
1. You aren’t good at taking instruction
2. Your manager’s bad at giving it
We all like to be the hero in our own narrative. So before you write off the idea you’re the problem, benchmark yourself. If you’re smashing it, isn’t it counterintuitive to get in your way? You might be problematic in areas you’ve neglected to consider. More on this in a bit.
Micromanagement can be endemic. Leaders learn from their leaders. Or they watch enough Simon Sinek talks to figure it out themselves. Is your micromanager the recipient of the same treatment from their superiors? If your boss doesn’t answer to anyone, what were their predecessors like?
There are books on micromanagement which suggest it stems from relationships established during childhood. The kind that entire strands of psychotherapy’s been invented to treat. Good luck combatting that by yourself.
In a handful of instances, it’s a nasty tactic to get rid of someone. Whatever the cause, you need to know your options.
Why exactly are they on your case? More importantly, is it reasonable? By that I mean, is it SMART?
You need to clearly distinguish what is and what isn’t. Action the former and don’t compromise on the latter. If you’re not sure, ask. And if your socks do need pulling up, yank those suckers up to your knees and crack on.
Micromanagers bottleneck your output. “Do what you need to do to fill the job” sounds empowering but is ripe for nitpicking if a win isn’t on the horizon by the end of the day.
Or within the opening fifteen minutes. “Let me read that before you send it”. “Make sure you CC me in”. “You should call Candidate X”. “Why haven’t you called Client Y?”
“Where are we with filling that role?” It’s now been sixteen minutes. “How many dial outs have you made today?” It’s 8.30 in the morning and they already know.
Proactive communication is vital. See it as a preemptive strike if you want, but adapting to your manager’s demands should negate them. Then you need to match that in delivery. By that, I mean you need to over-deliver.
You don’t have to fill every job you get on, but you do need to work like the clappers to impress a micromanager. Communicate consistently to give yourself the breathing room you need.
If you can honestly say you’ve conducted yourself to the best of your abilities and it’s not getting better, you need to take more decisive action.
Micromanagers suffer from a lack of confidence. Either in themselves, in you, or both. A confrontation will shine a light on this and likely put them on the defensive.
Most upward management gurus recommend dancing around the issue.
Asking questions like “what can I do to make your life easier?” On the face of it, a bit of subtlety seems kind. Thing is, anyone vaguely intelligent will see this for what it is: condescending and manipulative.
I’d suggest saying it how it is.
Don’t be afraid of using the M word. Say “I’m concerned that the micromanagement approach you’re taking is negatively affecting my output. I want to know what we can do to move past this”.
No one wants to be a micromanager.
Most don’t realise that they are. So, this can come as a shock. But if you can’t raise an issue like this professionally, you’re either working for the wrong people or you’re the problem.
You can’t plan the outcome of those conversations. But you can start on the front foot with a track record of adaptability, hard work, open communication and quality results delivered on time. The rest’s down to them.
Any manager worth their salt wants you to be a) better at your job and b) less of a drain on their time. If they don’t, I’ll save you months of deliberation.
Get a better manager.
If you’ve been sent a link to this article from a dummy gmail account, resist the urge to sack everyone in your team for insubordination. Anonymous feedback’s the most tactful way to communicate management issues upward.
I understand being ‘hands on’ has its benefits. New hires; critical projects; simply reminding everyone who’s boss. But if it’s your default, at best micromanagement’s irritating.
At worst, it’s the cause of chronic disengagement, dissatisfaction, resentment, inefficiency, stress, burnout, turnover, Sunday dread and an all round failure for anyone to reach their potential. Including you.
It’s a self-sustaining beast.
You’ll achieve a decent result with your nose in everything because you’re good at what you do. Long term, this harms the development of your team.
“Whatever I do, it won’t be good enough” they think.
“Whatever they do, it won’t be good enough” you think.
And you’re both be right. So you press on, which just makes the situation worse.
And then there are the lies we tell ourselves:
“If you want it done right, you have to do it yourself”. You might as well admit you can’t delegate properly and save everyone the hassle. “I like being hands on” comes across as “I’m anxious I don’t look busy enough”.
You need to lead with clarity and direction.
And then you need to trust your team to get on with it. There’s that Steve Jobs quote that pops up on LinkedIn from time to time:
“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do”.
Although apparently he was a nightmare to work with. And he wasn’t shy about it either. So it’s not a perfect mantra, but it’s a quote in the right direction.
Clarify robustly what success looks like and then HOLD. OFF. Then do that again. And again. Ad infinitum.
Those that need micromanaging will be judged by the money on the board. Unless you’re on their case because they fill out a Billing and Payments form in Wingdings, in which case they probably just need to do high school again.
Those that succeed, will succeed.
Albeit with a better manager behind them. One that isn’t breathing down their neck at least.
Principal Consultant - Finance at Marshall McAdam
Recruitment Consultant at Just IT Recruitment (JITR)
Senior Consultant - Drinks Sales at New Chapter Consulting
Consultant / Financial Services at Oakleaf Partnership