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What is Micromanaging?
Ask workers what they dislike most about their boss and you will probably hear some of these team members complain that their boss is a micro manager. This is true of managers as well. Ask a group of managers what they dislike most about their manager-bosses and some of them will complain about micro management as well. Think about that picture: managers dislikes their bosses for managing them too much. So, what is micromanaging?
This definition from Merriam-Webster provides a simple and useful explanation of what it means to micromanage someone:
to manage especially with excessive control or attention to details
Many rightfully view micromanaging as a problem in the workplace. It can hinder communication, innovation, problem solving and positive employee motivation in the workplace. I wrote a special article on this topic to help managers overcome their tendency to micromanage. Micromanaging is generally not the preferred way for a manager to lead his or her team. But, is micromanaging one’s team always the wrong choice as some writers suggest?
Is Micromanaging Always Bad?
It’s easy to suggest as some writers do that exercising excessive control or attention to details undermines a manager’s ability to lead his or her team effectively.
While this is generally true under many circumstances, it is not always true! Like most issues that involve the people side of the business, micromanagement needs some clarification however.
It’s wrong to suggest (as some writers do in their articles) that a manager should never micromanage his or her team.
The truth is that sometimes you absolutely need to closely manage your team.
In fact, if you aren’t micromanaging your team in these instances, then you are failing your team and your organization. And, you are failing as a leader!
When Should You Micromanage Your Team?
Here’s three instances when your team and your organization need excessive control or attention to details from you:
When Rome is Burning
If your work unit is in a crisis, you will need to lead your team out of its present situation. You will need to micromanage them at some level. While your team members will work with you to solve your crisis and provide you with important input on the problem you need to solve, you do not have the luxury to spend too much time collaborating with everyone on the fine details of what needs to happen. It won’t matter much which chariots, horses, and buckets you and your team use to put the fire out, if Rome is burnt to the ground.
Actively lead the process using a hands-on leadership style. When you face a crisis that threatens your work unit, you should micromanage the details. Reasonable people will understand this change in your leadership style. Once you “put the fire out and save Rome,” it’s time to adjust your leadership style. As the crisis passes, you can be less directive and begin your transition to a more collaborative leadership style.
This is also a good time to conduct a lessons learned analysis with your team to see what can be done differently in the future. Incorporate the best ideas of your team members. Involve other affected stakeholders as appropriate in helping you to figure out how to avoid this crisis from reoccurring. While you can never prevent crises from happening completely, you do not want to work in a never-ending crisis mode. Do all that you can with your team, peers, and boss to effect needed change in your organization.
When Training New Team Members
New team members need some level of micromanagement from you. Inexperienced team members who lack some areas of technical knowledge to do their job and who lack knowledge of your organizational processes, procedures, and general way of doing things cannot function without your micromanagement. They desperately need micromanagement! Without it, it’s easy for them to feel like they’ve been dropped in the middle of an ocean without a life raft and told to swim on their own or die trying. These team members will need dedicated attention from you to make a successful transition to your work group.
If you’re thinking that you don’t need to micromanage those new team members that you hired who have all the required technical skills, I hate to have to tell you that you have to let those thoughts go. Even these new team members will need some micromanaging attention from you. While you may not have to tell them much about how to do the technical part of their job (who knows they may know more about that area than you anyway), they will still need your help with the onboarding process.
Possible areas where even your experienced team members can use your help include the following:
- Providing key introductions to important organizational stakeholders
- Helping them to understand the culture of your organization
- Explaining your leadership style
- Identifying your work expectations that you have for them in their role
Finally, you’ll also need to maintain ongoing communication with your new team members to answer their questions and help them with any issues that they have.
How much help individual team members need and want from you will depend on their personality style. The same actions that you take with one new team member that they appreciate might be totally frustrating to another new team member with a different personality style. Knowing how to assess peoples’ personality style and adjust how you manage and communicate to their individual preferences can help you to establish a positive working relationship with your new team members.
When You Are Having Persistent Performance Problems With a Team Member
There used to be a time in organizations when many managers micromanaged all of their team members. This was an old-school view of how managers needed to lead their team members. However, since we are talking about the proper use of old-school techniques in our modern world, there is another instance when you should micromanage a team member. You should micromanage a team member when you are having persistent performance problems with him or her.
You might wonder: Why wouldn’t I just terminate this employee? This may be the correct option. Termination makes sense particularly when you have the authority to make this decision AND when you and your organization have followed your own internal procedures for performance improvement. There may still be some instances, however, when termination is still not the best option and you instead need to coach your team member to success.
For example, some organizations have strict policies for termination. These organizations require their managers to prove through a series of coaching and managerial actions that they tried to work with their under-performing team member to improve his or her performance. If this is your case, then you are in a situation where you will have to micromanage this team member.
Second, you may face a situation where the team member’s poor performance is due to circumstances beyond his or her control. They may be lacking some key equipment to do their job or they may simply just need training in one area to become effective. If you can address your team member’s need and return him or her to productivity, it’s wise to do so. Employee turnover is expensive. If this is your case, then once again you are in a situation where you will have to micromanage this team member.
I’ll state what managers who have experienced this know too well: Micromanaging an under-performing team member is frustrating! The reason why this is true is because you often end up not only having to deal with the team member’s poor performance but you must also deal with his or her poor attitude. Fortunately, there are some actions you can take as the manager to improve this dynamic with your team member.
To improve this situation for you and for your under-performing team member, here’s three things that you can do:
First, it’s important to approach your interactions with your team member with the right attitude. If your sole intent is to get rid of your team member, they will recognize that this is your motive and respond to you defensively. It’s often true that people do respond to your expectations of them. This is sometimes referred to as the Self Fulfilling Prophecy or even the Pygmalion Effect.
Instead, approach each situation with your under-performing team member as your good faith attempt to make them a functioning member of your team. Approach them with an attitude that they can and will do better. When managers adopt this approach, they are often surprised at how different their “problem team member” responds to them. You may be surprised too!
Second, when you do need to speak with your under-performing team member about a performance issue, adopt the well-known coaching guideline of praising in public and correcting in private. With social media, recording devices, and camera phones, the fallout from public correction can backfire these days .
Third, use a structured coaching process that promotes a cordial and honest two-way discussion with your under performing team member. Use effective communication techniques like listening, asking open-ended questions, and paraphrasing to get your team member to explain the reasons for his or her performance. Insist that your team member identify the steps that he or she will take to improve his or her performance. You can always add to their suggestions but your goal here is to get them to take some personal responsibility themselves for their poor performance. Offer assistance and agree together on next steps. Schedule time for a follow-up discussion.
So, there you have it: three exceptions to the advice that you should never micromanage your team members.
While it’s true that micromanaging your team members is generally not a best practice for effective leadership, there are some limited instances when it is the best action for you to take. To sum it up, here’s what I’ve learned about micromanagement in general:
The art of micromanagement is knowing the MANY occasions when you should NOT micromanage your team and the FEW occasions when you SHOULD micromanage them.