Are you a micromanager? 4 bad habits and how to improve

Devin Mercier
Jul 20, 2018 · 6 min read

If you have been micromanaged before, you know that it can be detrimental to the employee experience. You feel like you have someone constantly watching you and as though every little decision you make is being heavily scrutinized. You begin to suspect your manager doesn’t trust your capabilities and doesn’t value your contribution.

What if you were that manager?

We’ve gathered some questions to ask yourself to determine if you are a micromanager. If you’re guilty of any micromanagement bad habits, try initiating some of the changes we suggest and see how it improves both your employee satisfaction and overall team performance.

What’s so bad about micromanaging?

Micromanaging occurs when managers try to exert an excessive amount of control or are too involved in the details.

Micromanaging has a dramatic impact on employee satisfaction: In Harry E. Chambers’ book My Way or the Highway: The Micromanagement Survival Guide, 85% of survey respondents said their morale was worsened by the effects of micromanagement. Micromanagers also slow down their team’s performance when they have to approve every piece of minutiae.

This quote from an NPR piece on micromanaging sums it up well:

“Micromanagement can kill motivation, employee creativity and job satisfaction, and yet it remains the biggest beef workers have about their boss… Studies show lack of autonomy at work elevates stress hormones and can have other negative health effects, potentially even hastening mortality.”

Nearly all micromanagerial tendencies stem from the same problematic mentality of, “if I want something done right, I have to do it myself.” That way of thinking is fundamentally at odds with the core function of management.

Why lead a team if you’re just going to do all the work yourself?

Remember, when you only use your own ideas, you miss out on the better solutions that people on your team could contribute. If you’re stifling your team’s innovation and creativity, then you’re actually negatively impacting your company’s performance.

And of course, one of the biggest problems with the micromanaging mentality is that your employees pick up on it right away. They’ll sense that you have no trust in their abilities and do not value the effort they make. Consider the messages they’re hearing when you have micromanagerial moments:

Are these the messages you want to send to your team? They shouldn’t be.

Read on to identify your own micromanagerial habits and what you can do to address them.

Do you fail to delegate tasks?

It’s important to know the true definition of “delegate.” It’s entrusting a person to execute a task or responsibility on your behalf. If you are delegating work to your employees and then asking them for updates every step, you’re not delegating, you’re micromanaging.

Successfully delegating occurs when you have complete confidence in your employee’s ability to complete the task that you’ve assigned to them.

When you’re unable to successfully delegate, you end up focusing on tasks that someone else could and should be handling, wasting precious time and sacrificing getting truly important work done.

Changes to make:

  1. TRUST! You have a team for a reason. When delegating tasks, let experienced employees take on the responsibility without worry. For junior employees, try using structured check-ins as an alternative to doing it by yourself. These check-ins should be infrequent and have clear goals.
  2. Organization will create peace of mind. Create a “watch list” of tasks that need to be delegated. Getting it out of your head and onto paper will keep things from slipping through the cracks and will keep you from bringing it up as often.
  3. Think through the information and resources an employee would need to handle delegated tasks on their own. Focus on getting them that information instead of doing the job for them.

Do you require your approval through every step of a project’s execution?

If most of your day is spent checking the progress of your employees, not only are you wasting your time, you’re wasting your employees’ time as well. You should be focusing on managerial duties instead of reviewing progress updates and your employees should not be spending time writing memos, but actually executing the responsibilities of their tasks at hand.

Requiring constant updates creates a negative work environment. A 2013 study and separate 2017 study revealed greater autonomy has positive effects on higher job satisfaction, retention, and overall well-being.

Changes to make:

  1. Focus more on the outcomes you wish to see at the end of a project rather than the process itself.
  2. Express what the end goal of an assignment is and then ask your employee how they would approach the issue. Chances are their approach will be different than yours, but it might be more efficient or innovative than your original vision.
  3. Allow your employees to make mistakes. No one is perfect, but by creating a space where your employees can make mistakes, you’re helping them grow.

Do you need to oversee all team actions by being on every email chain and in every meeting?

Have you ever missed an email where your feedback was actually crucial to the project’s progress due to an overloaded inbox? Have you ever been delayed in hitting your own goals because your entire day was spent in meetings you didn’t need to be in?

If the answer is yes, then it’s time to stop micromanaging and start prioritizing how you spend your time.

According to an article in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, employees perform worse when they feel they are being heavily watched or monitored. When you ask to be cc’d on emails regarding minutiae or to sit in on meetings you don’t need to attend, your employees feel like you need to oversee every move they make and that you don’t trust the decisions they make when you’re not there.

Changes to make:

  1. Decide which emails you actually need to be cc’d on. Communicate that to your team and start removing yourself from the extraneous threads.
  2. When employees do include you on an email chain, give them an opportunity to respond before you step in. If your input is required, instead of jumping in, provide coaching on your employee’s response behind the scenes to empower them.
  3. Review the meetings on your calendar and ask yourself: “which of these meetings is my input actually required to make a decision and move work forward?” Any meetings where your contribution is not required should be a meeting you stop attending. The primary exception to this is sitting in on meetings where you observe your direct report so you can give them feedback on their performance (e.g., barging a sales call).

Do you dismiss your high turnover rate?

As the age-old saying goes: “people don’t quit companies, they quit managers.”

If many of your employees are leaving your team in less than two years, it’s likely your style of management has something to do with it.

High turnover rates are expensive, create inefficiency, and crush morale, but micromanagers will dismiss the obvious sign that something isn’t working. Micromanagers often find excuses to explain turnover that places blame on employees, instead of evaluating their own performance and how it might have forced employees out.

Changes to make:

  1. When an employee leaves your team, ask for feedback on your performance. It will likely be too late to save their departure, but take the opportunity to learn about their experience working for you.
  2. Hold a quick 15-minute reflection after completing a major project with your team. Ask explicitly about how your involvement in the project helped or hindered progress.

Striking a Balance

One of the most difficult things managers must do is distinguish between needed oversight and micromanagement. Managers have to know how their team is performing, how to support them to be their most effective, and when to step in to provide coaching. The right balance of hands-on and hands-off is different for each team you manage, and may even shift from project to project, but it’s an incredibly important balance to strike.

Now that you can spot some of the bad habits of micromanagers, examine your own behaviors. Prioritize creating a culture of support, coaching, and growth, so that your employees feel engaged, empowered, and happy to work.

Do you have any micromanaging horror stories? Or were you a micromanager? How did you change? Let us know!


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