Guilty as charged!! I confess that I do, at times, micromanage.
However, soon after slipping into micromanagement, I become aware (yet again) that micromanagement is truly just mis-management. It would have been far better for me to avoid the trap of micromanagement and to focus instead on coaching and empowering my team to achieve great results.
Why Do We Micromanage?
- Today’s communication tools – smart phones, dashboards, E-Mail, video-conferencing – make it easy for us as leaders to understand (at least, superficially) and give our opinion on any aspect of the business.
- Like all people, we are susceptible to “present bias”, especially when interacting with lower levels in a company. Present bias is the tendency to feel that an issue that is being discussed at this time is more important and urgent (and thus must be solved) than it really is. This gets us involved in often minor issues and side-steps the priorities and focus of our teams.
- As leaders, we moved up in our organizations because we are good problem-solvers and focused on getting things done. So, when somebody gives us a problem, we want to take action and solve the problem, even when it is not our problem to solve.
The Downside of Micro-Management
- Micro-managers waste time and resources getting involved in issues that can more readily be solved at a lower level.
- Micro-managers demotivate the team. By always making a decision or correcting other people’s work, we take away our people’s feelings of accomplishment or opportunities for development.
“If you want to attract and keep great people at any organization, you’ve got to give them a sense of autonomy, of ownership…. The really good people won’t tolerate being micromanaged.” Charles “Ed” Haldeman (Former Chairman of Putnam Investment)
- Micro-managers weaken communication, especially upward communication. When we constantly micro-manage, our team knows that any communication to us will result in our jumping in, giving our opinion, and taking charge. To avoid the time wasting and frustration that will inevitably result, our team slowly begins to limit their communication to us.
How to Stop Micro-Managing
- Let good enough be good enough. When reviewing a report or a project, we need to realize that not everything is going to be perfect, and we need to avoid correcting every detail. Let it go. Instead, let’s support the team on their work and offer to help them out if needed.
- Let other people make decisions. First, we need to remove our ego and the thought that the decision is so important that we are the only person that can make this decision. We also must not give our opinion on a decision before our employees give their opinion. As soon as we give our opinion, our team will (most likely) agree with our decision rather than challenging their boss and giving the decision that they may have been considering.
- Ask for regular executive updates (on a weekly or monthly basis, as appropriate) instead of checking in constantly (e.g. daily). Such regular updates ensure that upward communication is taking place while requiring the team to step back and evaluate their progress. This lets us see whether the team is focusing on the right things and making good enough progress without getting too deep into the details.
- Bundle communication with direct reports. By communicating with direct reports on multiple items (for example, speaking once about five items instead of five times each time about one item), we respect our direct reports’ time instead of interrupting them constantly. Further by waiting before speaking with a direct report, we may find that an issue that seemed so important just a few hours or a day ago is largely irrelevant and not worthy of discussing (that “present bias” again)
- Be cautious in skip-level communication. When we interact with people who work for our direct reports by going out into the operations or traveling with salespeople, we need to be on our guard about micromanaging. All too often, we may come across a problem a skip-level is having and try to solve it then and there. Instead, we need to give our direct reports our observations and let them resolve the problems and issues that we have seen.
In 2008, Google launched Project Oxygen, a data-driven research effort to determine what makes a manager great at Google. To be a better leader, we would do well to not micromanage and follow the insights from Project Oxygen:
“A good manager is a good coach; empowers and does not micromanage; expresses interest and concern in subordinates’ success and well-being; is results oriented; listens and shares information; helps with career development; has a clear vision and strategy; has key technical skills.” Google Project Oxygen