Poisoning the well: Why micromanagement is bad for business

Micromanagement is a management style characterized by leaders and / or managers who closely monitors subordinates’ work, often frequently adding his or her own input and constantly changing the final output. Micromanagers obsess about the smallest details and are seemingly incapable of delegation — they always need to do everything themselves. Micromanagers also often display a lack of trust in their co-workers and subordinates, and often also work poorly with others. Micromanagement is all about excessive control and is often associated with a lack of freedom and creativity in the workplace.

Micromanagement generally refers to taking control of a task or project down to the smallest most mundane detail, often resulting in hampered progress and stunted productivity. The practice of micromanagement also often ignores larger and more impactful policies and strategies in favor of obsessing about smaller issues — which can often be resolved without managerial intervention.

Micromanagers needlessly and unnecessarily complicate and lengthen processes while at the same time often frustrating co-workers and subordinates because of their over-management, over-scrutinization, and failure to fall back a little and trust their fellow employees more. Especially in today’s complex operations and workplaces, the boss who constantly changes decisions subordinates make and creates mountains out of molehills is more than just a nuisance — they cost the company money and productivity. Not to mention that they are HORRIBLE for morale in general. One might even hazard to say that tolerating micromanagement can run the risk of the company eventually failing due to high staff turnovers, lack of talent retention, poor productivity, poor creativity, and the like.

Despite the fact that many today generally frown upon the practice of micromanagement, many managers are still guilty of this and many organizational decision-makers often neglect to correct it.

Why micromanagement pulls down organizations instead of lifting them up

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “The best executive is one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” This is as accurate a description of what micromanagement can do and how negatively it will impact the organization.

Studies have shown that micromanagement has a detrimental effect on employees — the Journal of Experimental Psychology reported that employees who feel that they are being micromanaged perform at a much lower level. Another study, this time by FranklinCovey Solutions, indicated that global employees believed that micromanagement was the biggest obstacle to their success, growth and career development.

Micromanagement is so bad for the organization that in fact, Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile and psychologist Steven Kramer released the results of a joint study showing that micromanagement “stifles creativity and productivity in the long run.”

Among other things, micromanagement:

  • Creates a significantly more stressful working environment. Which in turn may lead to health issues.
  • May very well cause employee demotivation, possibly an increase in staff turnover, resulting in any learned knowledge getting lost to the competition.
  • Discourages creativity and critical thinking.
  • Goes against organizational success due to lack of cooperation and a lack of trust.
  • Causes innovation to be delayed.
  • Causes poor communication all throughout the organization.

Understanding micromanagement and spotting a micromanager

Part of the steps organizations and leadership should take when dealing with micromanagement is to spot micromanagers. It’s the first step in taking corrective action and pursuing coaching in order to help that manager develop true and better leadership skills and foster a stronger concept of teamwork.

Mind you, not all micromanagers know that they’re at fault. For many, it comes naturally, and many still do it unconsciously. Micromanagement can, and does, in many cases, fall within a compulsive behavioral disorder not unlike addiction — oftentimes, micromanagers cannot help themselves and rationalize their actions by constantly being in denial about their behavior. Micromanagers are often the last to realize that they are, in fact micromanagers.

Many times as well, micromanaging stems from a lack of decisional confidence, as well as uncertainty. Newly-promoted rank-and-file employees often practice micromanagement unknowingly since they are used to dealing with smaller issues and cannot step back and look at the bigger picture as they are supposed to. In the extreme spectrum of things, micromanagers do not take responsibility for their actions, instead opting to pass blame and accountability to subordinates. Subordinates in turn, learn very little and are often exploited since they constantly need to tweak processes and outputs based on the often fickle tastes and wants of one man. Creativity is stifled.

It’s also important to understand and be able to spot micromanagement in practice so that interventions can be arranged where and when needed, and leaders are better equipped to develop true leadership skills and/or set up sessions where others can learn about proper management and leadership. Nevertheless, here are a couple of telltale signs that someone is a micromanager.

  • Has no little to concept of delegating work — micromanagers are always under the impression that they know what they’re doing, so task fulfillment becomes a “my way or the highway” process. This lack of delegation severely narrows the lens through which projects are viewed and assessed. This lack of ability to delegate also prevents others from making important decisions, since every decision will need to be dependent on the micromanager. Thus, employees always second-guess themselves and become discouraged from developing critical thinking skills because everything marches to the beat of the micromanager’s proverbial drum.
  • Sticks their fingers into other’s tasks — in the same vein, micromanagement also often steps out of their assigned tasks. Many micromanagers will meddle with the way other processes and tasks (that are assigned to OTHER PEOPLE) are done. This is also done often without consultation with team or person to whom the tasks are originally assigned to, which results in needless conflict that can severely delay production or worse, grind progress to a screeching halt.
  • Sweats the small stuff too much — micromanagement sees the small things too much and obsesses about the details to an unhealthy level. This comes as a detriment to the overall purpose of the project or task. For example, a magazine editor who micromanages every aspect of production may very well cause the publication to miss its publication schedule; plus the constant change of details can result in a veering away from editorial layout standards or an agreed upon theme or direction.
  • Ignores the value of teammates and subordinates — the constant need to be the only approving entity devalues the capabilities and skills the micromanagers’ colleagues and even subordinates. More often than not, micromanagers don’t really factor in the experience or validity of a subordinate or colleagues input and instead rely on their own judgement alone.

Dealing with micromanagement in the workplace

It’s hard to stay productive, motivated, and engaged when once is micromanaged. It’s important for all the parties involved to have an action plan to deal with micromanagement in the workplace. Preventing and eliminating micromanagement in the workplace can keep employees happy, motivated, and creative.

Define micromanagement, communicate!

We mean not the definition per se, but set the right limits as to what would be considered the proper management and what line would be needed to cross to what would constitute micromanagement. Remember that people have different thresholds; while others may not mind having a minder or supervisor present all the time, but others can feel much more pressured — which in turn negatively impacts their output — at even the smallest monitoring action. It’s also important to put together employees and their supervisors / officers so that managers will have a better understanding of each subordinate’s pace, attitudes, and mindsets, and act accordingly during oversight.

Foster an environment conducive to learning and developing leadership skills

This means creating a culture where everyone’s input is valued but also keeping a firm position on who has the final say. This also means that the workplace should be made more transparent, so that everyone from the leaders and decision-makers to the rank-and-file folks have a better sense of what’s happening in the macro sense. Good ideas should always be rewarded and the originator credited for the idea and given the right recognition and appreciation. This way, others will also be encouraged to speak up and contribute to the organization in a positive manner.

Have the right tools to help support and supplement your workflow and productivity

One of the ways to minimize micromanagement in the workplace is to be equipped with the necessary tools that make it easier for rank-and-file employees to track the progress and schedule of their work, and for managers and leaders to look at the larger issues at play in the workplace.

Runrun.it’s suite of innovative workflow enhancement solutions are customizable and can be adjusted to fit clients’ needs. The system is largely transparent, thus helping decision-makers better oversee workflow and productivity while at the same time having access to real-time generated data that helps them make more informed decisions. This transparent nature also works well for collaboration efforts, as people can step in to help each other when needed and have a clearer picture of how the project is going. To see how Runrun.it can impact your organization for the better, check out the free trial here.

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