Letting go — why micromanagement fails

Do you have a dirty micromanagement habit?

If you haven’t been micromanaged yourself, you’ve definitely heard war stories from somebody who has. If you find yourself nitpicking at every action your team undertakes, you need to start letting go before you ruin your own productivity and your team’s motivation.

Major reasons why micromanagement fails

There are a number of good reasons why micromanagement fails, every time. Here are just a few.

Being micromanaged is the opposite of having autonomy

These days, it is commonly understood that giving employees autonomy is a great way to motivate people. When you feel that you have some control over the work that you do and how you do it, you feel that your are trusted and responsible for something.

Micromanagement directly stifles autonomy, because a leader will very closely monitor the actions of their staff, to the point where the employees have no control over their own work — they are simply following instructions that are given to them at every turn.

When somebody has little autonomy in how they work, they start to feel useless because their talents and abilities aren’t be utilised. They aren’t able to make decisions for themselves, so they aren’t bringing anything of themselves to the role. In this situation, it stands to reason that people’s engagement levels will drop significantly.

Micromanaging people takes up too much of a leader’s time

Have you ever micromanaged anybody? I have actually. It is definitely not my preferred style of leading people, but on a few rare occasions, I had a lack of trust in certain team members and felt that I needed to ensure that they didn’t go “off script” and break anything.

Even though you are clamping down on somebody’s ability to veer off course, as a leader, you are actually spending a disproportionate amount of time doing so. You are spending all your effort trying to manage a single underperforming person and spending very little effort on the people who you trust. Isn’t this the opposite of the way it should be?

In this situation, what you really have is a performance issue that needs to be addressed. Micromanagement won’t fix the issue, it will simply suppress it for a time. Eventually, when you don’t have the time to micromanage, there will be another problem. In other words, micromanagement is not a sustainable approach when you are leading teams.

You may think you are limiting your risk by clamping down on someone, but actually you are increasing your risk by focusing too much on a single person and not keeping up to date with what everybody else is doing.

How do you let go of micromanagement?

Being able to stop micromanaging your team is difficult, because you’ve probably built up a habit by now. You need to learn to let go, so you can lead more effectively.

Determine the root cause of your micromanaging behaviour

One of the first things you should do is work out why you feel the need to micromanage. The cause is often that you don’t trust members of your team. After all, if you trusted them, why would you feel the need to keep track of and monitor everything?

Where is the trust issue coming from? Is it because a mistake was made that had significant ramifications? Is it because a piece of work was submitted to one of your stakeholders that had errors all through it?

Now that you’ve pinpointed the event or events that started the micromanagement, go deeper. Why did this occur? Do you have the wrong people in your team for the work you do? A skill set mismatch, perhaps? Does your team need some training so they understand how to do their work better? Or do you need to reduce your standards slightly — is 100% correct really needed, or will 85% be OK for some of the work that your team does?

Take off the training wheels

Perhaps you had a new recruit in the last few months, so you monitored him closely to make sure he knew what was going on. 6 months in and you’re still doing it. Why?

It might be time to release your stranglehold on the situation and simply let them run with it. Let them do the work and monitor it at regular checkpoints, but between those checkpoints, just let them go. They know what to do now, so show some trust and you might likely be rewarded.

If it’s a performance problem, let them fail

Perhaps you started micromanaging because your team member is performing poorly. On the one hand, you have prevented issues occurring by watching the quality of their work more closely. On the other hand, you are now spending all your time suppressing the problem, instead of focusing your efforts elsewhere.

If it isn’t addressed, this situation can go on indefinitely. You aren’t letting the poor performer fail anymore — you are simply propping them up. So they aren’t going to get fired and you’re going to have to continue your close monitoring of the situation, leaving you little time for anything else.

You might find you are making the problem worse with micromanagement. You think you’re preventing any issues, but in reality, you are making someone feel less motivated and more resentful by tracking their every move.

Sometimes, it might be best to let them fail. Let go. If something bad happens, this is a performance issue that can be managed using the standard methods. If quality is not great, you might find some coaching is in order to improve the standard.

You need to get out of this micromanaging cycle and force something to happen. Either they fail, or they improve. Both are better than hiding any issues by spending all your time micromanaging somebody.

Micromanagement is horrible if you’re on the receiving end and a huge time-waster and trust killer if you are leading someone this way. Ultimately, you need to end your micromanaging ways if you are to lead a productive team. Spending all your days managing someone’s behaviour takes time away from coaching, mentoring and leading — which is what you’re meant to be doing.

Have you ever felt the need to micromanage someone? What was the reason? Leave a comment below with your story.

Originally published at comms101.net on May 18, 2016.

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