Micromanaging. Virtually no leader claims to do it, and those who do, say they are actively trying to stop doing it. Micromanaging is like a bad flu – no one wants it, no one tries to spread it, but we have all been infected with it. Unlike most flu viruses, micromanagement can last a long time with serious side effects.
Before we get to an alternative and some solutions, let’s start with some definitions.
Most definitions of micromanagement in books or dictionaries include the idea of excessive control or attention to details. My definition of monitoring success involves a leader supporting people in reaching successful outcomes. Both definitions make sense, and most would agree that the second is more appropriate and valuable. The problem is that when we are micromanaging, we tell ourselves that we are monitoring success. (Tweet that)
Who decides if you are micromanaging?
Your team members.
It is their experience and choice to determine your intention and what “excessive” means to them. To further complicate the matter, the same behaviors and questions from you may be seen by some as supportive, and by others as micromanagement. People’s perceptions will come from their personal experiences, their confidence and perceived competence at the work, their trust in you, and many other factors. While we can’t control that perception, we can influence it.
Why it Matters
If you have ever been micromanaged, you know why it matters. If you have been leading for a while, you may have forgotten what it feels like and be blind to the fact that you might be doing it. When people feel micromanaged, there will be:
- Lower trust
- Lower overall productivity
- Little (or no) innovation
- Lower engagement
- Less development of team members
- More stress
- Higher turnover
That is a scary list – and all of these will be present when a leader is micromanaging.
How to Monitor Success
Hopefully, I have your attention. Even if you don’t think you are micromanaging, some team members may feel you are, and that alone makes this worth thinking about. I could tell you things not to do to avoid micromanaging. Rather, I will share what you can do to change your approach, thereby changing the perception and results of your approach. Here are those suggestions.
Check your intention. If your intention is to check in and to make sure people are doing it “right,” you probably are micromanaging. Instead, if you want people and the project/work to be successful, you are heading in the right direction. If your intention is personally focused and your purpose is solely about that, the rest of these points are disingenuous and won’t work.
Set clear expectations. In this context, the expectations are about the work and how you will communicate and talk about progress. When you have clear agreements up front about how often you will talk about a project, and the purpose for those conversations, you will reduce the anxiety about these conversations and people will more likely understand the purpose. The best way to do this is to come to an agreement on frequency, rather than prescribing it. Without this determined upfront, your intention is much more likely misconstrued.
Focus on outcomes. Too often, when leaders focus on having something a certain way (rather than focusing on the result), the result is the perception of micromanagement. Think about it: if you have been given a task and know the outcome, don’t you want some latitude in how to do it? Wouldn’t you rather ask for help on how than be continuously coached on your steps? When you focus on outcomes, you are literally monitoring success!
Give people space. When you set clear expectations up front about the outcomes and the process, then give people a chance to work that process. When you do the previous two suggestions, this should come easily. Let people work with more degrees of freedom. How much space can depend on the person, their experience, and more. But if you want to monitor success and not micromanage, extend the rope a bit more for everyone.
Allow for failure. Let’s face it: one of the big reasons people micromanage is that they don’t want people to fail. They don’t want to (as the leader) look bad, and so they keep a tight rein to make sure people don’t screw up. We don’t want failures that are fatal or drastic, that is why we provide a net. Micromanagement isn’t a net, it is a safety harness, cinched up tight.
Keep it two-way. Ask, allow, and expect team members to come to you when they need help, and make your interactions a true conversation. I’ve often heard people talk about micromanagement in ways that include lectures, directives, and other one-way language. Engage the other person in a conversation about process, progress, and results. When you are working together towards the outcome, it will feel (and be) far more supportive and successful.
Use a dashboard. What this might look like depends on the type of work, but work together to create a way to map and chart progress. Often, if the leader knows the status, they are less likely to question the team member, thus avoiding the perception of micromanagement.
At the end of the day, the difference between micromanaging and monitoring success is the perception of your intent. If people see you as checking in (to help and show interest/support), you are monitoring success. If people see you as checking up (for accuracy, progress and quality), you might be a micromanager. Use the advice above to improve your odds of being a more effective leader, and less frequently be micromanaging.