According to Gallup, only 1 in 10 people possess the talents required to be a great manager. Even those with the natural talent to lead have to work to gain the knowledge and learn the skills that will help them excel in a leadership role. Great managers can help their team go beyond expectations and reach their full potential. Bad managers, on the other hand, hold their teams and employees back.
Employee engagement can make or break a business, and research shows that managers account for as much as 70% of employee engagement variances. It’s said that when an employee leaves a company, they’re really leaving their manager. While every employee has their reason for leaving a job, one of the most common complaints among dissatisfied employees is micromanagement.
Though there are some instances where micromanagement is appropriate (yes, really!), it is most often wielded by inexperienced managers or those who are ill-suited to leadership. Instead of trusting skilled employees to exercise their skills and autonomy, a micromanager seeks to control their employees’ work down to the most trivial tasks. Managers who regularly check over their employees’ shoulders and offer criticism (disguised as feedback) or take over their employees’ work are a few examples of micromanagement.
What is Micromanagement?
Though plenty of employees complain of micromanagement, few managers admit to it. While some may point to this discrepancy as evidence that employee concerns are blown out of proportion, the reality is that micromanagers are skilled at excusing their overreach. What their employees correctly identify as micromanagement, the (micro)manager justifies as diligence or even employee development.
So, what is micromanaging? A simple micromanagement definition is a style of management that favors close observation and control over employees’ tasks and workflow. Instead of delegating work to their employees and trusting them to get it done, a micromanager exerts control over the employee by dictating the exact process or steps to complete it and offering frequent observations (“feedback”) for improving their performance.
While the classic micromanager may be easy to spot hovering behind her employees, some micromanagement tendencies can fly under the radar. If your management style includes these behaviors, you may be micromanaging your employees instead of managing them:
- You take on tasks previously assigned to your team because “it’s easier/faster if you do it.”
- You expect your employees to copy you on all of their emails.
- You expect your employees to account for their whereabouts if they’re not at their desk or immediately available on Slack when you reach out to them.
- You are rarely pleased with the work your team does and frequently re-do it.
- You don’t ask your employees for ideas or suggestions about how to complete tasks or measure success.
The Pros of Micromanagement
Though micromanagement has negative connotations for most, there are circumstances when micromanaging is appropriate or even preferable. When a manager is training new or remote employees in a role where they’ll need to learn to follow complex processes, micromanaging may be appropriate. In these limited circumstances, there are a handful of benefits that outweigh the negative aspects of micromanagement, including:
- Micromanaging the onboarding process for entry-level employees can allow for precise measurement of performance metrics and prepare employees to handle more significant problems in the future.
- When it’s critical to ensure processes and procedures are followed precisely and consistently, micromanaging ensures that all employees receive the appropriate instruction and training.
- Minor issues can be identified and resolved before they become more significant problems.
- Employees working in a micromanaged position will receive consistent feedback to learn their role and its various functions.
The Cons of Micromanagement
Though there are circumstances where micromanaging is appropriate and even necessary, there are far more situations where micromanagement leads to deleterious results. Beyond the immediate frustration employees feel when they don’t have the freedom to do their jobs, micromanagement can have long-term negative consequences for employees, leaders, and their businesses:
- When employees are not empowered to use their skills and talents to complete tasks, it can cause a breakdown of trust between the leader and team.
- Micromanagement encourages employee overdependence. With their manager always nearby to correct them and take over, employees have few opportunities to develop the problem-solving skills that could help them and the business grow.
- When managers are focused on the small, micro-level details day in and day out, they don’t have the time to focus on the macro-level tasks that will grow the business.
- When managers focus their feedback on how a task is completed, they disincentivize creativity and ingenuity in their employees, leading to stifled efficiency and productivity.
How Micromanagement Can Affect a Team’s Productivity
From a leader’s perspective, their micromanaging tendencies may seem to be in service of their employees’ development. From an employee’s perspective, though, it can feel as though they cannot do anything right. Rather than seeking new and better ways to perform tasks that could lead to greater efficiency, talented employees grow frustrated as they perform rote behaviors merely to check off boxes on a seemingly endless checklist.
When employees feel undervalued and replaceable, it can have a significant impact on productivity. After all, anyone can be taught to follow a list, so why would their manager value them? There’s also no incentive for employees to exceed expectations when their manager has drilled home the idea that the process matters more than the results.
It’s not just employee productivity that suffers under a micromanager. When your team depends on you to provide constant guidance, they can’t develop the confidence necessary to troubleshoot tasks or even complete them independently. A micromanager’s day fills up with responding to each employee’s questions, taking up large chunks of the manager’s day, and leaving them with little time or energy for other tasks.
How to Combat Micromanagement Tendencies
It’s not difficult to find advice online for employees wondering how to deal with a micromanager. Less abundant is advice for managers who want to learn how to stop micromanaging. If you’ve noticed micromanagement tendencies in your leadership style, the first step to fixing it is to get curious. Curiosity allows you to explore ideas and questions about your natural talents and lived experience without judgment. Ask yourself questions that explore your beliefs as well as questions that challenge your assumptions, such as:
- What do I believe about my employees?
- What evidence do I have that supports my belief?
- What evidence is there to contradict this belief?
- What would happen if my team had to complete this project without my input or direction?
- What resources does my team have to support them besides my feedback?
- How do I solicit feedback from my team about our processes and my effectiveness?
- What might I learn by delegating more tasks to my senior team members?
- If I were to receive a promotion tomorrow, which members of my team would I recommend to fill my role? How have I helped prepare them for this role?
By approaching these questions from a place of curiosity, you can uncover information not just about your team but about yourself. You might realize, for example, that you’ve been micromanaging your team because they lack any additional resources that can help them learn on the job. Or, you may remember that you’ve hired the right people for the job but need to develop your trust in them to do what you hired them to do. No matter the underlying reason, once you’ve uncovered it, you can take steps to give your employees more autonomy and be surprised, in return, with their increased productivity, ingenuity, and creativity.
Nobody ever said it was easy to lead. Still, it can be hugely rewarding. As an executive business coach, I work with leaders at all career stages to help them build their leadership skills and hone their natural talent. So, if you’ve noticed you tend to micromanage or simply want to learn more about working with a leadership coach, let’s have a conversation. You can schedule a free 15-minute meet-and-greet here to discuss your goals and learn how (or if) executive leadership coaching is a good fit for you.