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When a manager takes his normal responsibilities of oversight and collaboration to an extreme, focusing on the minute details of his subordinates’ work and losing sight of the big picture, he is micromanaging. The impact on an employee's job performance can be devastating. As employees experience less independence and respect, their morale and productivity decline. The manager, who is frequently under pressure to maintain a high-performing staff, has created the very thing he would have wished to avoid.
Prevalence and Impact
Micromanagement is rampant. According to an independent study commissioned by Trinity Solutions, a training and consulting firm based in Peachtree City, Georgia, 79 percent of 200 respondents said they had been micromanaged at some point in their lives. Research has shown that when managers provide employees with adequate rein, employees are motivated and satisfied and perform more effectively. Under the control of a micromanager, however, employees’ self-motivation, initiative and creativity plummet. A demoralized, disempowered work force is prone to high turnover, absenteeism and low productivity.
Micromanagers monitor small details of projects assigned to employees rather than focusing on the big picture. Many do not delegate at all but instead are task managers. Often micromanagers discourage or outright disallow any decision making by their subordinates; instead they retain all decision-making power-- sometimes for details as trivial as the use of a comma versus a semicolon.
Why Managers Micromanage
Micromanagement is often caused by perfectionism or anxiety experienced by the manager, according to Benchmark Communications. The Business Research Lab agrees that micromanagers have a basic need to control. The reasons are specific to each individual, and micromanagement can be viewed as a kind of addiction. In addition, many micromanagers have never received leadership training. A manager may have been micromanaged by his own boss and believe that is the correct way to approach his employees.
Reversing the Cycle
The Business Research Lab, Mind Tools and numerous business consultants agree that two-way communication between the manager and her employees is critical to escaping this toxic cycle. The micromanager first has to do a fair amount of introspection. In essence, she must embark on a personal 12-step program. When the manager is ready and resolved, she can ask her subordinates for feedback, forgiveness and support. When the manager works with her staff to determine the best ways to get things done, she can foster a collaborative culture that encourages ingenuity, innovation and participation among all employees.
Strategies for the Employee
A micromanaged employee can try to speak directly to her manager, avoiding an accusatory tone. If she can’t confront her manager, she can try to work with him in other ways. She can stop resisting his micromanagement and try to predict and supply information he’ll want before he asks. Ask the micromanager for all information needed to complete an assignment and establish checkpoints for further discussion at the outset. Any strategy that an employee may initiate is more likely to succeed if her manager has already recognized his own issues. If all else fails, the employee can quit or ask for a transfer.
- “Leadership and Motivation”; Douglas M. McGregor; 1960
- "The New York Times: Your Money: Career Couch: The Control Freak in the Corner Office"
- Mind Tools: Essential Skills for an Excellent Career: Avoiding Micromanagement: Helping Team Members Excel on Their Own
- The Business Research Lab: Hell Hath No Fury Like a Micromanaged Workforce
- Benchmark Communications Inc.: And You Thought Your Boss Was Bad
- Microsoft Small Business Center: 8 Ways Micromanagers Can Cure Themselves
- "My Way or the Highway: The Micromanagement Survival Guide"; Chambers, Harry E.; 2004
- “The Office Survival Guide"; Puder-York, Marilyn; 2005
Since 1981, Diane Magnuson has written for and about a diverse group of nonprofits, including Visiting Nurse Service of New York, Dance Theatre of Harlem and Project FIND. Magnuson is also co-founder of Cause Effective and Gorilla Repertory Theatre. She holds a Master of Public Administration from New York University.
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