This post is the first in what will be a series of articles about How to Grow Your Business and Enjoy Smooth Sailing in the Workplace. Be sure to subscribe to our blog at the bottom of this page so you don’t miss an installment.
What does it mean to micromanage?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines micromanage as, “to manage especially with excessive control or attention to details.”
This author from Harvard Business Review doesn’t mince words about the practice:
Absolutely no one likes to be micromanaged. It’s frustrating, demoralizing, and demotivating.”
While it’s unlikely that any supervisor would have the goal of making their employees miserable, it is an almost guaranteed result if they micromanage.
Unhappy employees are less effective
Indeed, experts across the board agree that micromanaging is an ineffective strategy for running a business. In fact, a 2011 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology showed that people do not perform well when they are stressed out about being watched.
Yikes! Isn’t that exactly the opposite of what you’re hoping to achieve by keeping an eye on your employees?
When you think about it, this shouldn’t take a psychology degree to understand. None of us like having someone hovering over our shoulder while we’re trying to work. It can make anybody feel nervous, and nervous people don’t perform as well as relaxed people.
Aside from making employees unhappy, there’s a whole range of negative effects that will likely rear their ugly heads with your employees if you micromanage:
They become dependent. They begin to rely on your ongoing instructions and approval to do their jobs, and they’re unlikely to go beyond the guidelines you’ve set forth. When you instruct your workers about every detail of every task and then check in constantly to make sure the job is being done a certain way, employees lose the confidence in their ability to do the work on their own. Eventually, they won’t make a move without your approval. That can become exhausting for employer and employee alike.
They become complacent. Employees who work under the thumbs of micromanagers lose interest in their assigned tasks and instead often end up feeling like little more than worker bees. Since they aren’t given the freedom to be creative at handling their job, nor are they rewarded for thinking outside the box, they soon begin to feel that as long as their boss isn’t complaining, they’re doing good enough. And because their boss is such a nitpicker, they never feel like they are excelling at what they do, but rather they’re only able to demonstrate their ability to follow directions.
They won’t show initiative. If your employees feel like every assignment you give them to do is just a long checklist and they have to tick every box in order to get your approval, that one job will begin to feel like a whole bunch of tedious little jobs. The last thing they’ll want to do at that point is to voluntarily take on another task, especially when they know they’ll need your approval every step of the way, and since it wasn’t a task you assigned, it won’t likely register high on your priority list. They also know you are busy and might not have the necessary time to even give them the guidance and oversight that they’ve learned you demand of all of your employees on every job.
How do you know if you’re micromanaging?
Sometimes it’s important to engage in a little bit of micromanagement, for instance, if you’re training brand new employees, but otherwise, it’s a practice you’ll mostly want to avoid. Do you know the difference between leading and micromanaging? And most importantly, how do you know if you‘re guilty of this counterproductive managment style?
A quick search on Google produces myriad answers to that question.
An article titled “The Devastating Consequences of Micromanagement” at LinkedIn warns you may be micromanaging if this list resonates with you: you have a high staff turnover, you make all the decisions, your employees are on pins and needles around you, you’re unable to delegate.
Or maybe the symptoms are a bit more subtle. The Harvard Business Review piece referenced at the top of this article identifies these classic signs of micromanaging:
- You’re never quite satisfied with deliverables.
- You often feel frustrated because you would’ve gone about the task differently.
- You laser in on the details and take great pride and /or pain in making corrections.
- You constantly want to know where all your team members are and what they’re working on.
- You ask for frequent updates on where things stand.
- You prefer to be cc’d on emails.
So are you a micromanager? If you suspect you may be, don’t despair. Know that this is a common issue, but it’s one that you can solve.
Learn to lead by letting go.
That doesn’t mean you never check in to see what progress is being made, or that you never give constructive criticism when it’s really needed, but it does mean you start focusing on the big picture and stop obsessing over minutiae.
It can be hard (and sometimes scary) to just relax and trust your employees to do their job, but if you’ve hired the right people to start with, and if you’ve set clear goals and expectations, you should be able to turn them loose and let them do the work you hired them to do. By doing this, you not only show them that you have confidence in their abilities, but it also frees you up to do your own job with less stress.
Your employees will see you tackling your own responsibilities with energy and diligence while knowing you’re counting on them to do their part, and that will motivate them to do their best. Workers are inspired to do well when they know they are trusted and that their opinions are valued.