How Micromanagement is not Management

“In general, looking forward is great management; looking backward is micromanagement.”

– Verne Harnish

Nothing can hinder an employee’s engagement and productivity more than a manager who tries to control their team members with excessive focus and attention to the minor details.

Here is the difficult thing about micromanagement, though: we can see it in others, but it is far more difficult to recognize (and admit) in ourselves. Project Oxygen suggests taking a positive approach can help you empower your employees and avoid micromanaging them.

How do you empower your employees?

1.  Engage in regular coaching

When you focus on building trust and rapport with your team members by engaging in ongoing coaching, the focus becomes less about managing their work and tasks and more about empowering them to create their own strategies and actions. You are able to provide insight and feedback, while they own their outcomes. The interactions become more collaborative and less of a boss to employee relationship. 

A 2016 Society for Human Resources Management Study found that only 37 percent of employees participating said they were very satisfied with the respect and consideration their managers gave their ideas.

2.  Let your employees make decisions

There are likely only a handful of things on your plate that require you, and only you, to make a decision. What if you passed those decisions off to your employees to make the call? You might be surprised by the insights they offer. They are likely to take your gesture as a sign of confidence in them, which will boost their productivity.

3.  Smile more

We’re not even joking. It’s almost impossible for someone to exert the kind of tense energy that micromanagement does when they’re genuinely smiling. If you don’t think you have something to smile about, find it. We think you wouldn’t be in your current job if there wasn’t something about it that you liked, even if only initially. 

So how do you know if you’re dealing with a micromanager? Look for these three things:

1.  They can’t accept help

This may seem like a surprising first clue, but micromanagers become the way they are in part because they are fatally incapable of accepting help. There may be a few more deeply psychologically rooted reasons for this, but the two most likely are either:  a) they are perfectionists who can’t stand having things done any other way than theirs, or b) they have an overactive sense of responsibility and diligence which drives them to make sure things are done right.  Accepting help risks (at least to them, seems to risk) one or both of those things. They lose control of the situation, so that even when they truly need help, they have no intent of accepting it.

2.  They come off as a little (or a lot) suspicious

At least in this moment, these aren’t “glass is half full” kinds of people. They tend to look for mistakes or trouble when, to the outward eye, there’s little reason to think it might be there. When you’re sure there must be things that are amiss, it’s hard to prevent that vibe from rubbing off on your employees. Have you ever received (or given as an employee) an almost reflexive look that communicates subtle surprise or confusion? Fair or not, people who are suspicious look suspicious to other people. We are more apt to trust where we are trusted, and when it seems like the overriding assumption is that something is wrong, trust erodes.

3.  They don’t recognize creativity when they see it

Micromanagers aren’t interested in creative problem solving.   Even if you achieve the sought after results, if you didn’t do it in the way they thought it should be done, it’s a loss. They have a hard time wrapping themselves around the fact that a good thing, done a different way, is innovation.  Innovation keeps teams alive and thriving. It’s true that, for many tasks, there’s an established way of doing things for a reason. With as competitive as today’s marketplace is, if you as a manager are afraid of tolerating, even cultivating, this kind of experimentation, others will most likely give their team those freedoms and outshine you eventually.

If you’re a recovering micromanager (at least, you’d like to be), and you’re wondering what steps you can take to move in the direction of true empowerment. It’s not as easy as it sounds: if you’ve been a historical micromanager, it won’t happen overnight, but it’s possible, and achievable if you recognize your own potential micromanaging tendencies and are willing to take action.