LME003 – Micromanagement? How to avoid it and get things done.

You may think you are not a micromanager. But believe me, chances are high, that you are – at least sometimes.

But why should you avoid micromanagement? How do you become aware of when you are micromanaging and what can you do to avoid it? We will have answers on all of these – and I’ll give you 5 proven tips on how you can avoid micromanaging.

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What is micromanagement?

A typical definition is:

“Someone who micromanages is characterised by an exaggerated attention to detail and a detailed specification and control of what needs to be done.”

But what does “exaggerated” mean in this context?  What is meant by “detailed specification and control of what needs to be done”?

When are exact specifications and controls bad and when are they not? Isn’t that all very subjective? Don’t you have to take into account the situation and the skills of the employees?

We’re going to discuss these questions in more detail today, because you can see from the above definition that the evaluation of micromanagement is not so easy.

In my coaching sessions, I’ve worked with executives who told me that they don’t micromanage. However, their employees thought about it quite differently.

Are you a micromanager?

Let’s do a test.

Answer the following 7 questions and count the “Yes” answers. But be honest with yourself!

  • Do you spend more than 80% of your working time on day-to-day operations?
  • Do you believe in the sentence: “Control is better than trust”?
  • Do you have too little time to regularly deal with long-term strategy?
  • Do you feel you are the expert in your field?
  • Do you often ask your employees about the status of projects?
  • Do you always want perfect solutions?
  • If things seem to go wrong, do you sometimes skip hierarchy levels and give instructions over other managers’ heads?

The more questions you answered with “yes”, the greater the probability that you have tendencies towards micromanagement – even if you believe that you are not micromanaging.

Why is micromanagement bad?

Micromanagers have a negative impact on employees, especially on employee motivation. But it’s also harmful for the micromanager himself.

Let’s take a closer look at these negative effects – and first of all at the effects on employees:

If you tell employees exactly what they have to do and if you check their work down to the very last detail, then they lose the fun at work.

Control results, but not the steps towards the result.

It’s ok to control results, but it’s not ok to specify and control every tiny little step towards the results.

If you don’t give your employees at least some freedom to find their own way to get the result and to meet deadlines, then this is highly demotivating and frustrating. Because – whether you like it or not – with such behavior you make it clear to your employees that you don’t trust them and certainly don’t trust their abilities.

The bad thing about this is that over time you train your employees to become dependent. After a while you wonder why your employees don’t seem to have any ideas of their own. Typically the micromanager gets the feeling

“Nothing at all comes from my employees. Creativity? Nothing. They don’t come up with their own ideas. I need to tell them everything. They’re just stupid, need to get told what to do and need to be controlled all the time.”

I’m sorry, but this is your fault with all your micromanagement. I keep saying it:

“After 2 years latest, every manager has exactly the employees he or she deserves.”

Micromanagers also often find it difficult to set priorities.

Everything always seems important and everything always seems urgent.

The employees are confronted with a flood of tasks that they cannot deal with in time. Everything is important and urgent to the manager. He’s not talking about strategy, goals or the big picture but only about small and tiny tasks in detail. The employees cannot classify the significance, importance or urgency of tasks because he’s neither giving this direction nor is he talking about why a task is important.

Why does the manager do this?

Either he doesn’t think he has the time or he doesn’t know his goals and priorities. I don’t care how: It is fatal and leads to frustration, demotivation and excessive demands on employees.

Overload of the micromanager

However, the exaggerated attention to detail and the lack of confidence in others also has negative effects on the micromanager. He believes that he must set the course and control every task and every employee.

This costs time and energy – and that is exactly why the micromanager becomes the bottleneck of his department. Everything needs to be approved by him. Tasks remain lying around because he has not yet checked and released them. He Doesn’t know how to delegate and very often he falls into the trap of upward delegation.

He takes care of every little thing and therefore does not find the time to take care of the really important things. The operational matters are really eating him up. That’s fatal.

Bypass of hierarchy

A particularly critical type of micromanagement is bypassing the hierarchy and undermining your subordinate’s authority. Let me describe it in an example:

Assume you’re the CEO of a small business. Because your business is prospering and you’ve had to hire more and more people, you recently introduced your first managers.

That makes sense, because you can’t manage 30 employees and more on your own. So you have appointed some of your best and most trusted employees as group leaders. One of these employees is now responsible for production as group leader, the other for the development group and one leads the sales group.

The only trouble is: So far, all employees have reported to you. If there were problems or if a decision was needed, whom have the employees asked so far? – Exactly: They asked you.

Just because you’ve now officially appointed group leaders doesn’t mean that your employees will automatically turn to these group leaders for questions and decisions in the future. On the contrary. After all, your employees have become accustomed to addressing you for years. So they’re gonna do the same thing for now.

Who makes decisions?

And now it’s up to you. You are no longer allowed to make all the operational decisions that you made earlier. You delegated some of them and they are now in the hands of your group leaders.

For example – if an employee from production approaches you and asks you how he should proceed with product xyz, you shouldn’t longer decide.

Instead, you should refer him to the production manager, because he is now the decision-maker. It’s his job now. It’s up to him, not to you.

If you don’t do this, you are undermining the authority of your production manager. In the future his employees will no longer take him seriously, because real decisions will still be made by the big boss, who is you.

Then why should the employee ask his group leader if he still can ask you? There is a saying which is on point:

“Talk to the organ grinder, not his monkey.”

You don’t want your employees to think your group leaders are monkeys, do you?

What if a decision is already made?

It gets even worse if your production manager has already made a decision and communicated it to his employees and you now reverse this decision with a small remark to an employee.

“John just asked and I helped him quickly and decided the matter.”

Wrong.  Without probably wanting to, you have undermined the authority of your production manager. If this happens several times, he will no longer be accepted by his employees – and it will be your fault. When in doubt, the employees ask you – the boss and not their group leader.

Perhaps your employees will play you and your production manager off against each other.

“Let’s see who gives me the better choice.”

I’m sure you know that from your parents’ house. If Dad tells me I have to be home by 10:00, I’ll just check with Mom. Maybe she’ll let me stay away until 11:00.

So, if you undermine the authority of your production manager, then he can’t take the burden off you. Because the employees do not accept it and go back to you in case of doubt. This costs you time, nerves and in the long run the production manager will quit his job.

Whoever undermines his subordinate’s hierarchies is micro-managing. Therefore, think about it:

“Micromanagement can even destroy otherwise useful hierarchies.”

Why does someone micromanage?

Mostly it’s not done because of bad intention.

Some micromanagers simply lack self-confidence. They have a strong need for security and predictability. Nothing should go wrong.

But anyone who delegates always takes a certain risk. You never know for sure whether the agreed result will actually be achieved and what will really result when you assign a task to an employee.

It’s the fear of mistakes and the risk that leads to micromanagement. In case of doubt, the micromanager prefers to control too much rather than too little or not delegate the task at all.

Are you the expert?

Then there are the micromanagers who think of themselves as the best at everything anyway. This category primarily includes managers who’ve successfully completed specialist tasks for many years. They are and were experts. But something changed. They were promoted into a managerial position, now they are new as a manager. Now they have to deal with leadership and need to delegate these specialist tasks.

The problem here is:

If I was the best programm coder for years, then it’s naturally difficult for me to hand over the coding when I am now group leader.

Because I am convinced that my employees will not do the job as well as I do. So I specify every detail and I control every step of the implementation. As an expert, the risk of becoming a micro-manager is high! I used to be in the expert’s shoes and know what I’m talking about. I was a micromanager. Listen to episode 001, where I tell you my story about what helped me to get rid of my micromanagement behavior.

5 Tips how to avoid micromanagment

Starting with learning how to delegate and avoiding micromanagement is both an investment in employee training and an investment in yourself becoming a better leader. Yes, it takes time and energy – and mistakes sometimes happen. But it’s worth it. Because you as a manager get time and you get committed employees who work independently and probably exceeding your expectations in the long term

What can you do if you realize that you have tendencies towards micromanagement? How do you manage to resist your impulse to control and specify everything and specify down to the smallest detail? Here are some tips.

Tip 1: Focus on the result not the way to the result.

If you delegate, you control the result, but not the path to it. Talk about goals and priorities, but leave your employees the freedom to find their own ways. If you haven’t done yet, then listen to podcast episode002 on delegating. There, I talk about the 5 levels of delegation. They will help you to find the balance between trust and control depending on the skills of your employee.

If you have delegated a task on a certain delegation level, stick with it and trust the employee. If you don’t and you control more than you agreed, your employee will get the feeling that you think he won’t make it. You’re undermining his confidence. You don’t want that.

Tip 2: Learning from mistakes!

Let your employees learn from their mistakes. If you are an expert in your field, remember that you initially learned a lot through trial and error. Give them at least some kind of freedom to make their own mistakes.

Tip 3: The 80:20 rule!

Always ask yourself: What kind of result do I need? It’s important here: Mostly the best, the optimum result is not needed. It’s about the result that makes sense for the customer or the situation.

In most cases the result is good if you follow the 80:20 rule. With 20% of the time you get an 80% solution. If you want 100%, you have to spend 80% of the time on the remaining 20%. It seldom pays for itself.

I’LL give you an example: Let’s assume that you told your employee to write the minutes of a meeting. How important and decisive is it that the content is correct? Well, I believe we agree that this is very important. Also the correct wording can be decisive. However, whether the formatting is perfect, all rules of correct grammar and spelling are applied and wheather the minutes of meetings adhere to all rules and standards of the companies  corporate identity – all these points aren’t important. However, it can cost you and your employees a lot of time to deal with it. So don’t do it. Don’t waste time on it. Follow the 80:20 rule.

Tip 4: Write your own job description.

Think of the top 3 important things someone in your position should be spending most of his or her time on. And no: It’s surely not controlling your team. Listen to my podcast episode 001. There we talk about on what you should focus as a leader.

Now, write these 3 important things down on a piece of paper. Put it on your desk or stick it on your bathroom mirror. Put it somewhere, where you look at it at least once a day. Then review it daily or even more often. If you do so, this will help you to focus on doing your job correctly and you will recognize more easily, when you micromanage.

Tip 5: Pretend it’s the day before you go on a vacation.

Isn’t it funny? Every time when we have a deadline – like if we are going on vacation tomorrow morning – we are able to finish our tasks shortly before the deadline is due.

Yes, it’s hectic but to get out of the office, you force yourself to focus on the most critical things and on the tasks most likely only you can accomplish.

If you suspect you may be micromanaging then use this strategy. Focus on the tasks closest to you that really require your expertise. The ones only you can do. Don’t be distracted by controlling your employees. Remember: Your plane leaves tomorrow at 8:30 am. There’s no other way for you than to trust that your team has it under control. – And they will.


The inspiring quote

“Authority—when abused through micromanagement, intimidation, or verbal or nonverbal threats—makes people shut down & productivity ceases.”

John Stoker