The other day I was talking with a man named Tim (last name withheld) who is a middle manager in a large company. Tim was complaining how his supervisor makes Tim responsible for a whole lot of things, but is tying his hands in way that gives him very little authority to get those things done. In Tim’s words, it’s so bad it goes way beyond micro-management (so much so that we’re calling it sub-atomic management).
Over-controlling is usually done by managers who don’t quite know how to manage. The result is ineffective use of personnel and tremendously lower productivity and profits.
Micro and sub-atomic managers operate from a belief that the people under their charge are incapable of following through on the tasks assigned them. They spend time telling people exactly what to do and how to do it. They start making decisions about who-should-do-what three levels down on the organizational chart. They disregard people’s ability to solve problems on their own.
This is a morale-killer for seasoned employees.
Often times a manager does not even realize he or she is micro-managing. This problem is exasperated when no one dare confront the offending manager for fear of retribution, but the problem can be addressed if the offender learns of his or her transgressions.
One of our clients was a woman in her 50’s. The seventy-five people under her direction were complaining that the micro-managing was getting worse. When we brought it to her attention we discovered she did not even know the definition of micro-management. Once she learned that her behavior was classified as micro-management, she shifted pretty quickly. Lo and behold, now everyone is much happier and production is back up.
Micro-management happens everywhere. Jean Rollins (not her real name) is a conscientious mid-level manager who is always willing to go over and above. She says, “I’m trained and guided by regulations. I know what I need to do to get my job done well. I do my job and then some.” But from time to time, Jean has experienced micro-management at the government agency where she has worked for fifteen years. “Sometimes it’s worse than others,” she says, “depending on who is running the agency at the time.”
When micro-management gets bad, Jean gets frustrated. “We get so bogged down by the focus on minutia that we can’t do the things that we’re supposed to. Micro-managers get focused on their own little agendas and have us chasing things down to make them look good. They don’t allow us to keep the priorities we need to accomplish our mission—and then they have the nerve to complain about our lack of time management!”
Part of the problem with many micro-managers is not understanding what goes on around them. “They don’t know the day-to-day details of my job,” Jean says. “They’ve never done it, and they won’t listen to me when I try to tell them.”
At the other end of the spectrum are micro-managers that know all too well the jobs of people in their organization. Charlie Yuan works in a factory outside Chicago as a lead in his department. But his department head, George, worked in Charlie’s job for six years before getting promoted, and George doesn’t hesitate for a minute to tell Charlie exactly how things need to be done. Never mind the fact that Charlie’s been there for almost two years and operations have changed in the past six months.
If you’re a boss, set goals. Get feedback from your direct-reports on what is needed to meet those goals, and then let them move ahead with their assignments. You’ll want to check status from time to time, continuing to ask where help might be needed, and then supply that help.
If people under your charge need training, provide training. It requires time and resources in the short term, but it creates knowledgeable employees, equipped to make decisions.
Believe that the people in your charge can do the job and make decisions if they have the right tools and enough information. Involve them in the goal-setting process by getting their input on potential obstacles and possible solutions.
Then delegate for results – not methods.
Let your people do their jobs. That’s what they’re paid to do.