Best Practices

Best Practices


Has a subordinate ever told you that you were prone to micromanaging? Or perhaps you have worked for someone that micromanaged you? This column offers some tips for dealing with this issue.

Lets start by defining the term micromanagement. It is a business management style whereby a manager closely observes or controls the work of his or her subordinates or employees, and is characterized by excessive attention to minor details.

The obvious next question is this: What causes someone to micromanage others? There are quite a few different reasons that this behavior may arise, and it is important to recognize the different possible causes of micromanagement as follows:

Lack of trust that the employee will carry out the task or project properly. This lack of trust may be rooted in history (i.e. the employee has failed in some prior work activity) or in the supervisors own tendency toward perfectionism or control.

Intense pressure from higher-level management, accompanied by requests for frequent updates on the project progress or potential outcome.

Lack of training with regard to good management and delegation techniques, and the accompanying lack of understanding as to how micromanagement affects employees and company culture.

An intense desire to win, perhaps accompanied by a desire to show personal involvement in an important project or to get credit for a successful outcome.

Another complication is that micromanagement is, to some extent, in the eye of the beholder; what may feel like micromanagement to one person may not feel that way to someone else. Additionally, there is a corporate culture component: If you move from one company to another, you may find the culture to be either more or less tolerant of micromanaging behavior.

Why is this behavior worth analyzing and discussing? Because it is generally seen to be at best demotivating and annoying, and at its worst can be demeaning and lead employees to seek to move away from the micromanaging boss. It can be quite counterproductive, as well, as it may lead employees to be afraid to make decisions without consulting the supervisor, resulting in poorer outcomes or slower projects. It can also lead to a poor reputation for the micromanaging supervisor and ultimately stall their upward mobility in the company.

If you feel like you are being micromanaged by your boss, here are some techniques to try:

Consider whether your supervisor may have reason to worry about your performance of the assigned task or project, either due to some negative history or due to your lack of training or background in this type of work. If this is the case, deal with the micromanaging by ensuring clear agreement of task deliverables and a timetable, and communicate progress often. This may lead to your supervisor being more comfortable with your capabilities and backing off the micromanaging behavior.

If there is no obvious rationale for the behavior, it is still good practice to ensure agreement of deliverables and a timetable. Additionally, set up regular meetings to communicate progress and discuss your approach. You may want to probe into higher-level managements attention to your project, and how you can help your supervisor deal with these pressures. Make sure your supervisor knows that you are committed to a successful project outcome and that you understand its importance to the company and to your boss. This shared commitment to success may serve to relax the micromanaging behavior over time.

If the micromanaging continues to occur over some significant period of time, take the opportunity to discuss the situation with your supervisor. Be careful not to label the behavior or be accusatory. Engage in a discussion with your boss as to how the working relationship could be improved and what you could do to gain more trust or autonomy in order to grow in the job.

If, on the other hand, you have been told by others that you tend to micromanage, take this feedback seriously-especially if it is given by employees who are highly capable and whom you do trust to get the job done. Reflect on the specific things that you do that result in people feeling micromanaged. If this is hard to do, ask a trusted subordinate to give you examples so that you can address this and become a better supervisor.

A personal example may be useful here: A colleague working for me once told me that I could be quite urgent with regard to follow-up on a task that I had assigned. This made me realize that, indeed, I have a tendency toward impatience that made it seem at times like I was micromanaging. The recognition of this tendency made me more aware, and as a result I tried to set up a regular communication schedule and avoid overly frequent requests for updates.

Consider also whether you are over-constraining in your instructions when you assign projects or tasks to others. It is totally appropriate to give the what and the when associated with the task, but try to avoid also giving the how. Be sure to leave those working for you sufficient freedom to carry out a project in their own way, which may be different from yours. If, during some project review you are uncomfortable with the approach, then seek to understand it better rather than lay out your own approach.

Be sure to take into account the specific skills, capabilities and experience of the people who are working for you. If someone is quite new to the organization or junior in experience, then you may need to set more frequent review points and query their approach more deeply. However, if your people are experienced high-performers, you can dial back the supervision and act only when asked to provide resources or remove barriers.

Micromanagement can be contagious in organizations. Do your part to break the cycle and your employees will thank you for it!

Sara Lefcourt of Lefcourt Consulting LLC specializes in helping companies to improve profits, reduce risk and step up their operations. Her experience includes many years in marketing, sales and procurement, first for Exxon and then at Infineum, where she was vice president, supply. Email her at or phone (908) 400-5210.

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