Micromanagement is sometimes a gut reaction of people who are meticulous leaders. You want the job done right, so you have your hands in every part of the process. And the truth is, you sometimes don’t see the problem with that tactic. After all, if it creates a better-than-average product, it can’t be all that bad, can it?
Except that it’s undermining your relationships, time management, and the personal investment that your team has in your organization.
For an alternate example, lets look at Apple’s founder, Steve Jobs. He had a confrontational management style, but under his leadership Apple designed iconic products, created an international brand and disrupted several industries forever. His successes far outnumbered his failures. And it is one of his most-quoted remarks that is going to drive my argument today:
“It’s doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” – Steve Jobs
Micromanagers may get some things right, but they are hobbling the ability of their organizations to grow, innovate, and adapt. In fact, this style of management one succeeds in doing one thing—sucking away your time and sucking the ability for creative, independent problem-solving from your team.
Micromanagers: Unbearably Close and Uncomfortably Critical
So what is micromanagement? HRZone.com defines micromanagement as: “… a negative term that refers to a management style characterized by extremely close supervision and control of the minor details of an individual’s workload and output.” It’s typically characterized by four big leadership markers.
- Equate Leadership with Control. Micromanagers often monitor the structure of an employee’s day, such as start and end times, lunch breaks, time away from the keyboard. For example, a manager in a small association counted how often staff members visited the restroom during the day.
- Inability to Delegate. Micromanagers are reluctant to delegate but quick to pounce on mistakes and, once they find mistakes, are likely take over a previously-delegated project. One manager delegated a website redesign. When the first stage of the project was ready for review, he deemed it “completely wrong” and started over from the beginning, even though he had been consulted throughout the planning.
- Hypercritical. Micromanagers can be hypercritical and focus on their methods as the only valid methods for completing a project.
- Reluctant to Share. Conversely, micromanagers may not share their methods or make it clear what is acceptable because they are trying to be “flexible.” They sometimes lack the communication to effectively show team members what the standard is, and so compensate by simply doing it all themselves.
Why Do Leaders Micromanage?
Jenny Chatman, a professor at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, attributes micromanagement more to the “bosses’ level of internal anxiety and need to control situations” than anything about the employees. But by regularly interrupting projects, micromanagers undercut their employees’ ability to work independently and make it more difficult for a team to accomplish its goals.
Sandra Lewis, CEO of Boldly, suggests that micromanagers are afraid they won’t be seen as authority figures or experts. They judge their worth on being needed by their subordinates. If everything is cooking along without their input, they worry they might be seen as unnecessary.
Lewis also describes micromanagers as perfectionists who don’t trust their teams to accomplish tasks in the “right” way—meaning “their” way. Perfectionists would rather do it themselves than risk allowing their teams to make mistakes.
Finally, Lewis identifies those managers who can’t seem to adjust to promotions. They were good or great at their previous assignment, but just can’t let go. They get stuck in the minutiae of job, rather than moving to the broader perspective of the new job. They don’t recognize that the new job requires them to work “on” the business rather than “in” the business.
At a certain point in their careers, leaders realize that their job is to empower their staffs to handle the details while they work on higher-level strategy. Micromanagers are often unable to scale their teams or their responsibilities. While the team is small, a micromanager can handle all the details. As the team grows or the projects increase, however, a micromanager will struggle to keep up with the details. Overwork and burnout are likely outcomes.
Hester Taylor Clark, founder of the Hester Group, is quoted in a Forbes article about the similarity between managing a team and being a parent. “Just as you can over-parent,” Clark says, “ you can do the same thing to your company. I had to come to the place where I know that the staff I have is capable and then let them go, because they are ready and can handle it … if you hold on too tightly, it doesn’t grow.”
The Personal and Financial Toll of Micromanagement
If you’ve ever worked for a micromanager, you know how it feels. The constant surveillance, the attention to insignificant details, the lack of trust. It’s enough to make motivated, talented employees to become disengaged, taking any opportunity to avoid the constant criticism.
According to the 2021 Gallup Employee Engagement Study, only 39% of employees are engaged at work. The percentage of those who are “actively disengaged” (read that miserable and talking about it) was 14% in 2020. So why does that matter?
Disengaged workers are costing you money. Gallup found that disengaged employees are 37% more likely to be absent from work, be 18% less productive than engaged employees and have 15% lower profitability.
Karen Borysenko did the math in a Forbes article. Disengaged employees cost the company 34% of their annual salary. If the average salary in the United States is $47,000 – that’s $15,980 lost to lack of engagement per employee.
And disengaged workers lead to turnover. The Society of Human Resource Managers estimates that replacing a salaried employee costs a company an average of six to nine months’ salary, including recruiting and training expenses. For an employee making $50,000, for example, you spend between $25,000 and $38,000 every time you fill the position.
We don’t have exact percentages of disengaged workers who checked out because of micromanagers, but it isn’t difficult to see a correlation. Micromanagement leads to disengagement which leads to lower profits and eventually loss of great employees that would stay if they were given the freedom, trust, and autonomy to do their job well.
Stopping the Micromanagement Train with Technology
Fortunately, there are technology solutions available that help your entire team see company goals. We use a product called Align. The tool helps all of our employees work together to meet long-term company goals. Technology like this is a great first step.
Although even the best technology won’t stop a determined micromanager from demanding reports every day, it does give all employees the insight necessary to have conversations about top-line goals.
Micromanaging is a ultimately a culture issue, and our culture-driven coaching program gives you actionable strategies you can use today to build a more dynamic and agile learning organization. Learn more about some of our quick projects to help leaders move away from micromanagement and towards a more sustainable growth leadership style.