The Impact of Micromanagement

Oh the micromanager; hovering, peering over shoulders, making sure there are no mistakes made, and checking, checking, checking everything.  Complete Control!

Oversight is important, but that’s different from micromanagement.  Micromanaging is not just oversight, it’s overkill.  It’s checking on everything when you have perfectly competent people doing a job, it’s taking control of every aspect of the workplace, it’s not allowing people to think for themselves and grow from their mistakes, it creates self doubt, and it prevents a manager from building a trusting, productive work environment.

A Case of Micromanaging

I was put in a situation at work where a program was implemented that required some serious micromanaging of all employees. It looked liked this, no exaggeration:

  • Meet with the team each morning to determine team goals for the day
  • Meet with each individual every morning to determine their goals for the day and how they were to achieve them
  • Check-in with each individual mid-day to see progress towards goals
  • Meet with assistant manager to check mid-day progress for his/her team
  • Check-in with employees at end of day to determine if goals were met
  • Meet with team at end of day to determine if team goals were met, celebrate success

This was in addition to regular team meetings and 1:1 coaching sessions. Can you say overkill? When the program was introduced, I thought, “You have got to be kidding!” I have never been a micromanager and I found doing this really difficult. First, it was a nightmare trying to fit in all the meetings & check-ins despite my creative scheduling. It meant there were some other activities I needed to stop doing which I felt were more important. Second, it just didn’t feel right. To me, a work environment based on a level of earned trust was critical and something I valued. But you never know until you try and the guys with the big paychecks had decided this was to be done so I made it happen. And here’s what I found.

How Employees Reacted

When I first implemented this, I thought everyone would feel like I did. That they wouldn’t want to be micromanaged and that they would feel suffocated. But everyone is different so there were varied reactions. I’ll break employees into 3 groups for the sake of this post: Top, Steady, Low.

  • The top employees. Most of these employees were a little resentful and felt that I no longer trusted them to do their jobs. Even though they knew this was a mandate and that my trust in their capabilities hadn’t changed, it still didn’t feel good to them. They also were unhappy that I was taking up time in their day which seemed to be non-productive. But, they complied, worked a little harder and kept performing. With just a little less job satisfaction.
  • The steady performers. Your steady performers are often the rock that holds your workplace together. More about that in a future post. Overall, this group felt more stressed out. They were always in the “middle of the pack” for results and really felt the pressure to up their game. When someone’s asking you 3 times a day where you are at with your goals, if you are barely making them, it creates more stress. Employees spent more time preparing for the meetings and stressing about the check-ins. The result? Productivity declined slightly and employees became more stressed.
  • The low performers. There’s always some micromanagement happening with those who aren’t performing so the reaction to a lot of follow up didn’t change. The program was beneficial for some employees. They made some progress towards results as long as you checked in. What happened when you stopped checking? The results declined!

In case you are wondering, the program was revised, and then dropped completely after about 5 years.

Tips for Micromanagers

If micromanaging is an issue for you or someone you work with, here are a few questions to ponder:

Why do you think you always need to follow up with people?

Are your employees willing and capable?

Are your employees clear on what you expect from them?

Do you allow people to make mistakes and learn from them?

Are there any consequences if employees don’t complete a task you’ve asked them to do?

What’s the worst thing that could happen if you stop checking on things so often?

Answering these questions will help you sort out whether there is an issue with communication, training, or if there’s a performance issue that needs to be addressed.

Manage the Individual

Everyone is different. People work differently and respond differently. If you manage them with broad strokes, treating them all the same, some will be happy and others will be down right miserable.  Here’s some general thoughts on managing employees.

Top Performers

Top performers are capable, motivated people who know how to get the job done.  Let them do it!  Inspect what you Expect, but don’t waste your time checking up on them constantly. They will usually resent it and because they are really good at what they do, they may decide to move to a different job or location where they feel trusted and less smothered.

Steady Performers

Your good, stable performers will tolerate you but they will feel stressed and their productivity may decline. These are the people who may not be quite as driven, skilled, or efficient as your high performers but typically they want to do well and they are important contributors to the workplace. So they’ll try to do a good job, and they’ll probably over prepare and spend too much time on what it is you’re always checking on. They could use some guidance and direction, but they are also capable so give them some rope. Pick spots if you need to micro manage a bit, but the expectation needs to be that this is short term to get them on the road to success.

Low Performers

Your low performers are the exception where some micromanagement should happen, but again, this is short term. If you’re constantly checking and following up on them then they’ll just stop thinking for themselves because they know you will come along and redo or fix up everything for them.  It’s okay to have extra oversight for a bit while they learn what your expectations are, but after that it’s a performance issue.  If you keep micro managing you’re just ignoring the poor performance and could be wasting a lot of time on someone who really doesn’t care about doing a good job.  Stay tuned for more on performance management in an upcoming post.

What about the impact of micromanaging on you?  Well, you’ll have good control over everything, but you’ll likely be burned out and frustrated.  I’ve often heard managers say that they always have to follow up on everything and no one seems to care about doing a good job. If you feel that why, it’s likely because you’re micromanaging rather than addressing a performance issue. 

If you’re a micromanager, try putting away your big wide paint brush and manage people as individuals instead. Trust your best workers, Inspect what you Expect, allow growth from mistakes, and manage performance when it’s necessary.

What are your thoughts on the impact of micromanagement?

If you found this post helpful please comment and share. If your boss is a micromanager slip this post to them (maybe anonymously would be best).

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