Top 5 Causes of Micromanagement and What You Can Do About It

Chris Walters Leadership Leave a Comment

When I interview candidates, one of the most frequent complaints I hear is “I hate being micromanaged.”  If my small subset of interviews is any indication, there is an epidemic of micromanagement going on out there in the business world.  I suspect if you got a sample of 100 people in a room and asked them to list the top 3 mistakes their leaders make, micromanagement would be on at least 90% of the lists.  So why does it happen?  What is the root cause?  What is it that leads someone to take actions that are generally agreed to have a negative impact on an organization?

Leaders usually micromanage because they are afraid and fearful.  They feel like unless they hover over the subordinate and give step by step guidance and supervision, the task won’t get done the correct way.  Sometimes there’s an element of ego involved, in the sense that the manager knows no one can do the job as good as he can, so he constantly nitpicks a subordinate.  This is toxic to good working relationships, and shouldn’t be tolerated at any level.

Here’s my take on the top 5 causes, along with some quick guidance for how to avoid micromanagement.

1. Failure to adequately baseline the responsibilities of the job or task and the expectations of the leader for accomplishment.  One of the first things a leader should do jointly with a subordinate is to outline the responsibilities of the job/task, document it, discuss it and modify if necessary.  This should be done on a macro level with the entire job, and on a quick, micro level with a task.  See previous blog posts concerning providing clear guidance.

2.  Lack of prioritization.  Micromanagement is often the result of a jumble of tasks that get dumped on someone  with no guidance as to priority.  If a leader doesn’t make the priority of work clear, precious time may be spent on a low priority task, setting the subordinate up for increased pressure to avoid missing expectations for a higher priority task.

3.  Lack of regularly scheduled, ongoing “huddles” to allow the subordinate to provide status reports for situational awareness, and ask for direction as needed.  These huddles also allow the leader to check status on a regular basis, so there’s no last minute scramble to get a task done that was supposed to be in progress.  Having them scheduled regularly makes it a part of your Operational Rhythm, so it becomes a natural part of your week instead of an unwelcome intrusion.

4. Failure of the subordinate to provide meaningful feedback on the duties of a job.  If you need training/assistance but don’t discuss it, or tell them you think there’s a better way of doing business, it should be no surprise when you don’t perform up to your potential and you find your boss hovering because her expectations aren’t being met.  If you feel like you’re being micromanaged with no good reason, let the boss know that you’ve got the situation under control, ask that they give you some space, and give them your word that you’ll make them glad they did.

5.  Overall chaotic environment.  Leaders set the tone for the environment.  If there’s a aura of constant churn and chaos, it doesn’t provide that solid structural foundation for accomplishing tasks in a well thought out, orderly fashion.  The mode of operation becomes fighting fires and getting things done as quick as absolutely possible.   A supervisor may be able to accomplish the task faster, but that’s not necessarily the long term most effective way to get it done.  Much more productive would be to have the supervisor sit with the subordinate, go through the task together and document the steps.  If the organization has inadequate resources, it’s even more important that everyone pulls their weight.  A poorly performing staff member who requires constant guidance should be put on an immediate performance improvement plan with clear goals and consequences.

Notice a trend?  The root cause is “failure to communicate” on the part of both parties.    No matter what your position is in an organization, you must actively engage your team to communicate.  That means talking and listening.  That means telling someone if they aren’t meeting your expectations.  It also means documenting those expectations, providing guidance/feedback, and  agreeing on how to handle the situation going forward.  Effective leaders can’t afford to micromanage, they realize that it is a waste of time and energy.   If you’re a leader, don’t put up with under performance.  If you feel you’re being micromanaged, ask yourself what you can do to put a stop to it.   That leads me to the question I usually follow up with when someone complains to me about being micromanaged, “Well, what have you done about it?”

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