There is absolutely nothing pleasant about having or being a micro-manager. As an employee, your work is constantly being questioned, torn into pieces and re-done. You get the feeling that you’re no good, that your work is not appreciated and you will never meet your manager’s expectations.
As the micro-manager, you are working crazy hours redoing your staff’s work or criticizing what they do, you are frustrated by the number of mistakes you keep finding, you lose trust in your team and you end-up stressed and burned-out.
So how can someone take the micro out of the manager?
The origin of the micro-manager
To better understand how to stop the micro-manager, one must first understand how the micro-manager is born. Like everyone else, the future-to-be micro-manager started as a junior on the job. He/she worked their way up in the organization and became really good at their job. They were trained, they had the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them, and they knew everything there was to know about their work. They were so good, that they were promoted to a manager position to lead other staff to do more good work.
With their new promotion they have to move to a leadership role and manage staff who sometimes make mistakes as they are learning their job. The new manager feels the urge to perform for the team and falls into the trap of repeated criticism and fixing the mistakes themselves because “It’s just faster/easier if I do it myself”.
There you have it, the micro-manager is born.
The vicious cycle
Why is it so hard to stop being a micro-manager? Well often the manager and the team are stuck in a vicious cycle. First, the manager controls the team and business processes so tightly that no one else can make decisions. This means that the team cannot work without the manager being heavily involved.
The team loses its capacity to think for itself and requires the manager to be heavily involved. The more involved the manager is, the more the team needs the manager to push things forward. And round and round we go.
How to break the cycle
There are 4 common mistakes that contribute to the vicious cycle. Luckily there are some simple ways to correct them whether as the manager or the employee.
1. Be flexible in your process
The micro-manager often insists that work should be done their way (the only acceptable way!). While the manager’s way may be right, there is usually more than one way to do things.
The Manager: understand the process your staff is proposing before dismissing it. If you see weaknesses in their approach, challenge them by asking how they would handle the issues you foresee. If it works, leave it alone, maybe you will learn something!
The Employee: If your manager tells you your way is wrong, ask why. Dig in to understand what they see that you don’t. If you still believe your way is best, explain the benefits as you see them and demonstrate how their way provides the same results that yours does.
2. Teach, don’t do
The micro-manager often thinks it’s more time efficient to fix mistakes themselves instead of asking their staff to fix their work. This is a short-term fix and will lead to significant inefficiencies in the long term.
Think of this; one staff spends 1 day to work on a document, the manager takes an hour to review the document and finds a bunch of mistakes. The manager then takes half a day to re-do the work and sends it off. Next time a similar document needs to be prepared, the staff will still take 1 day to prepare it, since they’re not sure what they did wrong last time, the manager will review it and still take half a day to re-do the work to fix the same mistakes. And on and on it goes, resulting in a 50% inefficiency that will never resolve itself.
The Manager: If you teach instead of doing, your staff will learn how to prepare quality work and you will only review and provide feedback. In a perfect situation the staff may eventually be able to prepare the work in half a day, and it will be free of significant mistakes, providing you with more time to lead instead of doing and thus creating a potential 50% future efficiency. Time well spent!
The Employee: Ask for feedback when you see that your work was completely changed. If your manager does not find the time to give you feedback, book time in their schedule. Micro-managers are often detail oriented, therefore ask specific questions to get the session going. Don’t fear feedback, it can only help you improve and learn. Remember, we all make mistakes, even your manager.
3. Check-back often, don’t wait until it’s too late
The micro-manager may feel that there is no time to provide feedback, as the deadline is closing, he or she is busy correcting other work, and it’ll just be faster to re-do the work if it is wrong. The mistake here is waiting too long before checking to see how things are progressing early and continuously throughout the task.
The Manager: Take the time to check in on how your staff are doing with their task, do partial reviews and provide feedback often. By the end, you should only be tweaking the work of your team. Make your feedback constructive, provide well-reasoned opinions, include positive and negative comments and focus on improving the outcome.
The Employee: If your manager doesn’t check-in, do it for them. Let them know where you’re at and seek guidance when you need it. Involving them along the way will ensure you’re both on the same page and limits the chance of unwanted surprises late in the game.
4. Build trust
After seeing his or her team depend on them so much, the micro-manager loses trust that the team can learn from their mistakes and do the right thing. Trust is arguably the hardest to fix and very difficult to rebuild. The key is to identify the source of potential mistrust and address it early. This one lies squarely with the manager.
The Manager: Ask yourself why you do not trust certain individuals and keep asking yourself why until you don’t have any remaining questions. For example;
Q: Why do I not trust Bob in my team?
A: He never gives me a full product on time
Q: Why is that?
And continue until you can no longer answer your own questions. This will require some investigation, and most likely demand a meeting with the individual to really understand what’s going on. Continuing the questions:
Q: Bob, I see you are struggling with submitting your deliverables on time. Can you help me understand?
A: He works on multiple projects at a time and struggles to manage his time
Q: Why is that?
A: Because he does not plan his projects
Q: Why is that?
A: He thinks it’s a waste of time to plan.
BINGO, you’ve got your root cause. Now you can work with Bob to explain why planning is important, demonstrate the impact it has on the team and the organization, and discuss how you can work together to help Bob better plan his projects.
Once the micromanager has broken the cycle and built ownership and capability through mutual trust and respect, he/she will have joined the ranks of a true manager. The team will thrive and efficiency will simply become a by-product of a healthy learning environment. Don’t be surprised to see people asking to join his or her team!