No one wants to be micromanaged, but as it turns out, no one really wants to be known as a micromanager either. While a super small start-up might get away with it for a while, this annoying and often demoralizing habit can have a devastating effect on the workplace. It is especially destructive to a growing enterprise. Here’s why you can’t afford to allow it in your company culture, and how you can recognize it before it gets out of hand.
What is Micromanagement?
The word means to “control every part, however small, of (an enterprise or activity),” but in reality, we know that it’s impossible to do all things in your company. That doesn’t mean that some business owners won’t try. Here are some red flags that you have overstepped your role into dangerous and excessive micromanagement territory.
1. All Communications Go To (or Through) You
If you are the type of manager who wants to be cc’d on every email, memo, or letter, you are probably a micromanager. Realistically, it’s not likely you will be able to read, much less act on, these communications, so why try? It’s also stifling to your team to know the boss is watching all that they do. They are less likely to take creative risks or try new problem-solving tactics if you’re following their every word, and studies have shown that stressful work without flexibility may lead to health issues!
2. You Treat All Tasks as Equally Important
It’s time to be honest with yourself. While it may require many different moving parts to make your business run, they all don’t have the same urgency. Confusing “desirable” outcomes with “mandatory” or even “legal” isn’t wise. If you can’t separate out the must-do’s from the should-do’s from the nice-to-do’s, you’re likely treating all tasks the same – including your oversight of them. It is impossible to prioritize when all things are equal, and the mere act of hovering can lead to poor performance on even the most menial tasks.
3. Processes that Involve You Take Longer
You may be surprised to learn that many bottlenecks don’t occur because of employee competency issues; they also happen because of bureaucracy. If you’re part of that hold-up, ask yourself why. Is it necessary for a process to come through you? If it does, what is the cost to efficiency? If your involvement in a task causes it to significantly lag, you may be most of the problem.
4. You Take Joy in Correcting Others
At your level of authority, you should delight in creating things, watching your business grow, and seeing how you positively affect others through employment and opportunity. If you find more happiness in catching others making mistakes, you are likely a micromanager.
5. You Live for Progress Reports
“Where are we on Project B?” If you find yourself spending a lot of time asking for updates – especially those outside of the agreed upon meeting times, you are likely getting stuck in the details. Most large projects should already have built-in milestones to inform management of any issues, needs, or victories. If you seem to need assurances much more often than this, it’s a bad sign.
6. You Would Do It Differently – or Better
One of the hardest parts of managing others is allowing them to tackle problems from their own unique tool box. This involves trying things in their own timeframe, with their own resources, in their own style. If the outcome is satisfactory, but you still don’t like it, you may be the problem. If goals are met, but you feel like you could have made a superior result (and you say so), you are most definitely the problem.
Help for Micromanagers
Being prone to these habits doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t even make you a bad business owner. If left unchecked, however, it can prove dangerous to your long-term professional goals (and relationships with your workforce.) Fortunately, you are not alone in the fight to let live and let live. Here’s how leading experts suggest you fix things.
First, acknowledge you are a micromanager. It’s amazing how many business owners deny this until it is too late. While ideally, you’d want to get a handle on it before company morale breaks down, it’s better late than never for even the minute task-master. Admit that this is a challenge for you and resolve to change.
Choose the best people. It’s hard to let go of important things to untrusted (and untested) managers. So, don’t! Pick the areas that you aren’t the best at, and staff them with your best and your brightest. By taking full responsibility for who leads these projects, you are ensuring that you’ve done all you can to create a reliable management system you can depend on.
Set clear expectation, outcomes, and reporting. Next, you need to be sure that you communicate exactly what you need these managers to do. Let them know when you want to hear from them, what you want to hear, and what they can expect from you in return. Take any guesswork out of the reporting process, and you’ll be able to sit back and know your best people are up-to-speed on what they need to do.
Allow some experimentation – and mistakes. Finally, people are people. They will mess up. (although with your star managers in place, it won’t be as often as it could be.) Give some wiggle room to try new things in the areas that you are less concerned about. Let a few things get messy. It’s how your team will learn and grow—and even better processes will be born.
With 79% of workers reporting that they experience micromanagement, you have the potential to stand out by creating a workplace that fosters independent thought, creativity, and productivity. Today’s business owner has much on their plate. Why not share more of it with the best of your team? You’ll find yourself with more time and opportunity to enrich your own life, too.
This article was originally written on October 5, 2017 and updated on January 27, 2021.