Micromanaging: a communication problem?

Cartoon of fierce blue eyes with frowning eyebrowsMost people have had to work for or with a micromanager at some point in their career. (If you’re one of the lucky few who haven’t, congratulations – and I hope your luck holds!)

Micromanagement, according to Wikipedia, is:

a management style whereby a manager closely observes and/or controls and/or reminds the work of his/her subordinates or employees. Micromanagement is generally considered to have a negative connotation, mainly because it shows a lack of freedom in the workplace.

I’d add that it shows a serious lack of trust, as well.

There’s one single instance where micromanaging is appropriate: when you’re working with an employee who’s just learning a new skill or process. But then it’s not micromanaging at all; it’s training.

Micromanaging is often viewed as a control-freak problem, where the manager in question is so invested in their own sense of control – and so fearful of being out of control – that they can’t let go. They insist on knowing every detail of what’s happening, what’s been done, how it was done, whether it was done the way they’d do it, what hasn’t yet been done, why it hasn’t been done, when it will be done …

It’s exhausting, for the manager as well as for the employee.

So let’s look at what you as the manager – or you as the employee – can do differently.

You, the manager (employees, read this too)

First off, if you’re reading this, congratulations: you’ve acknowledged that you just might be a micromanager.

Next, consider the title of this article: could your micromanaging tendencies be a communication problem?

Do you have, or have you had, employees who don’t provide status updates, but leave you flapping in the breeze when your management asks what’s happening?

Perhaps you’ve been burned in the past when something went wrong, but you didn’t know about it in time to take action.

Maybe you’ve had to deal with an employee who thought they were capable of completing a task or project, and you didn’t find out in time that they weren’t.

At heart, you know micromanaging isn’t efficient or effective. You know it’s irritating your employees and taking up big chunks of your time – time better spent elsewhere. But there it is; you keep getting sucked in.

I suggested in the title of this article that micromanaging is a communication problem.

What communication process could you put in place to feel less like you need to constantly check up on your team?

What about a weekly status update – an email every Friday at noon?

That’s just a suggestion, and maybe during a critical project phase or high-stress time you’d need a daily update.

Whatever you choose, you’ll know that the update is coming, which will help you resist the urge to call, email, or text your employees to ask what’s happening.

Also, read this: The Dangers of Delegation (true story, with dog)

You, the employee (managers, read this too)

Your boss is hanging over your shoulder, watching everything you do.

Maybe not literally, maybe not every minute, but it feels that way.

You’re afraid to make a mistake. You dread “doing it wrong” (meaning, not the way your manager would do it). Never mind the possibility of missing a deadline.

I’m going to ask you to consider one of my favorite questions.

Why would a reasonable person do this?

Meaning, Why would a reasonable person micromanage their employees?

I know what your immediate answer is – they’re not reasonable!

Set that aside. Pretend. Imagine hard. And think about what I wrote, above, for the manager.

Is it possible that you don’t communicate enough for them? Is it possible that, as I suggested, they’ve been burned by bad communication leading to real problems? Could you communicate a little more?

Perhaps you can go to your manager and ask How would you like me to provide status updates? I can send you a weekly email, for instance. Would that help?

Depending on your relationship, you could gently mention that you feel a bit watched, not to mention hovered over… and that it slows you down and makes you less productive than you’d like to be.

Or you could send them this article!

For both of you

Micromanaging isn’t good for your career, whether you’re on the receiving end or the micromanaging end.

Find a way out, whether that’s through better communication or some other path.

You’ll both be happier, more productive, and more successful.

gljudson Better conversations, Management & Leadership