The Debilitating Effects of Micromanagement

Posted by Bob Blackney on August 6, 2013

vision-control matrix with micromanager in bottom right

At some point in our careers, we get to work with a micromanager—the person who tries to control everything that happens in a school or office. Micromanagers pay excessive attention to details and avoid delegation of tasks and decisions to staff members. The parody of the micromanager is the leader who spends the better part of the day counting the office supplies used. While micromanagers may feel they are doing a great job and being very structured, the often are oblivious to the effects that they are having on the rest of the organization.

In the best situations, micromanagement is an impediment to progress and in extreme cases it can cause the organization to stagnate. Let’s look at the some of the effects that come with micromanagement.

Effects of Micromangement

Micromanagement prevents innovation. Employees can’t come up with new ideas and procedures on their own; they have to constantly check with the micromanager who is often unavailable. Workers become “drones” that wait to be told what to do rather than take risks that come with innovation. Employees with skills and knowledge will leave such situations and the organization is left with workers who are content to wait to follow instructions.

Micromanagement slows workflow, as all approvals have to go through the manager who will not give up control. It is not efficient for normal work to have to wait for approval from an overzealous manager. Delegation is an essential element in any organization and it is an essential skill for any manager.

Micromanagement prevents an organization from using the talents and skills of the staff. Employees are hired because they have the knowledge and ability to do a job. If they are constantly being hovered over by an oppressive manager, then they cannot do the jobs that they were hired to do.

Micromanagement creates a “wait to be told” culture. Why do work ahead of time if the micromanager will come by and change everything? Better for employees to just wait until the deadline approaches and then do the job. There will be far less time to have to make changes and have to re-do the work. Everyone in the organization learns to just wait until it has to be done and then do what they are told to do.

Micromanagement slows progress because meetings must include the micromanager. Workers learn that if the micromanager has not “signed off” on the project there is no use in moving forward unless it is done exactly the way the micromanager wants it to be done.

Micromanagement retards communication within a school or office and with the community. When someone asks a question, workers will often reply, “I’ll have to check with my manager.” Employees should be able to respond to coworkers and with the community without being held hostage. If the answer is not correct, then it can be corrected. The damage that is caused by inaccurate communications is not nearly as great as the damage that is caused by communicating in a timely manner.

Micromanagement discourages teamwork. Workers don’t work together; they just have to work with the micromanager. I have heard work groups say, “What’s the use of getting together to plan, we will just have to change it all.” This is not how an efficient organization runs. Managers should encourage everyone in the organization to constantly be innovating, communicating and improving and this cannot be done if the manager cannot delegate and respect the work of his or her employees.

In some situations, the micromanager will assign work and then micromanage the work to enable the oppressive manager to take credit for any positive results, and also to blame the employee for negative results. In this scenario the micromanager actually delegates the accountability for failure to the worker without giving them the ability to take initiative that might have made the project a success.

Are you a micromanager?

Might you be a micromanager and not know it? According to Alyssa Gregory, here are some telltale signs:

You have more work than you can handle because you can’t delegate effectively.

You frequently assign work, then take it back because it’s not getting done the way you want it done.

You tell your team exactly how you want things done and leave them no room for them to take initiative.

You continuously take on project manager roles, even when there already is a project manager.

You rarely complete projects on time because you can’t get past the details.

You need to know what everyone is doing, all the time.

Your team avoids you and all one-on-one conversations with you.

You don’t let any of your team members contribute ideas, communicate with clients or even talk to each other.

You become the bottleneck because everyone is always waiting for your approval on everything.

Your team has unreasonably high turnover.

You question the processes followed, work completed and proposed next steps at every status meeting.

You feel that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.

 

Micromanagement disables a school or office in countless ways. All managers should be careful not to fall into the traps of over-managing. The damage that comes with micromanagement is not easily or quickly corrected.

 

 

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Bob Blackney

Bob Blackney is currently Director of Technology at Azusa Unified School District. He has worked for over 35 years to build his understanding of how to use technology to improve education, and sees it as an essential element of learning in the 21st century—if used correctly.

7 thoughts on “The Debilitating Effects of Micromanagement”

  1. Bob, reading your post made me think of two things. First is a class I once took during graduate school in socio-technical systems theory. I remember the professor emphasizing that individuals and groups in an organization need to have both the skills and authority to accomplish their tasks. I’m thinking it would be interesting to re-read some of that literature in light of all the changes in technology since then. Second, and less theoretical, when, as a manager, I would delegate tasks, I always found it a challenge to describe the task I was delegating, and the outcome I desired, in appropriate detail. The more general my task definition, the more likely the outcome would not be acceptable and the employee, who tried hard to do what I’d asked, would be frustrated and disappointed. On the other hand, define the task too much and the employee is likely to feel the manager has no confidence in his/her own intelligence and ability. “What, do you think I’m an idiot?” Sometimes I’d get it right, sometimes not.

  2. (answering exactly one year later)

    Michael, as someone who has worked under micromanagers and found himself very frustrated, I have some input on the subject.

    I can see the delicate balance you are referring to. Depending on the project, I think that delegating it and having it turn out quite the same way you were hoping is better than micromanaging it in the first place. Good management will know who is ready for what project, how much oversight is needed, and can be comfortable with the employee learning how to do things better the next time. I believe that is how mentoring works and the best way for people under you to grow into what you hope them to be.

    Just some thoughts.

    -TIm

  3. I am a senior professional in marketing and am currently working under a micromanager. The sad part is that he holds a Director of Sales Marketing title, without really knowing the sales, and even less marketing. He has fallen into this position in 2008 fighting for his job and calling whole bunch of people when financial industry was falling down. The title was given to him to give him crediblility on these calls. He is an economist, can only say one pitch and does not understand marketing: but to him, sending a newsletter IS marketing.

    As the company grew and now being bought by a bank, becoming a small segment of the entire operation, he still feels he contributed to the survival – which he did – but he micromanages me, a professional of 25 years in the field and telling me how to do things, jumping into the projects, re=checking communications and when being told ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ he takes out the Director card.

    Frankly I had it. It is a deal breaker. My advice is that you mentor only if the person wants to be mentored and if you hire a person to do the job, after the initial training of a few months, let them. The job will not be done the way you want it. It will be done their way. You have to learn that lesson, or resign yourself to be a micromanager forever. And for the senior staff and after the training, hire them BECAUSE they are smart and can do the job. If the staff does not come to you for guidance and support it speaks for itself: in that case, get some MBA courses or even therapy.

    People do not leave jobs, they leave managers. I will leave this job which I love very much and just want to tell this person above that he still is one. It is a damaging trait in business and in personal life and you will never feel secure in yourself as long as you do not accept that other people can and will contribute, on their own time and within their capabilities and this is called teamwork. Cloning is not teamwork.

  4. Anna, your story resonates with me as I am currently working under a micro manger and have suffered through it for 2 years. Not only has she robbed my confidence and daily undermines my ability to make decisions she checks up on me to see if I’m in the office / which I am as she’s working part time.
    I have worked for an organisation I have loved for 7 years and I am now moving external.
    My issue is she can give feedback to me but I can’t give it to her so the sad part is I will leave without disclosing her faults and she’ll continue doing this to the next person.
    Organises stuns really need to better prepare managers and support them through their management journey to build a stronger workforce and create a sustains unable culture.

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