What is micromanagement and how to avoid it ?

Have you ever felt "micromanaged"? In other words, have you ever felt excessively controlled by your manager? Or maybe you have micromanaged your team unintentionally?

Micromanagement is a management style whereby managers closely observe or excessively control the work of their team members. This is a manager's attitude towards his team, a managerial posture based on continuous control and monitoring. It is defined as a management type that prevents the team from growing and lacks leadership.

Asking to be copied on every email sent, setting up too many meetings, signing off every single detail may seem like management rituals without consequences. However, they create stress for teams, discourage initiatives and therefore the development of employees. Indeed  micromanagement is one of the expressions of toxic management.

More than half of employees have worked for a micromanager and the explosion of remote work during the pandemic has only amplified this tendency to over-control. Recent studies show that nearly one in two employees is monitored by tools within their company!

So, what are the signs of micromanagement? What are the risks and concrete consequences for the team members? How can I, as an employee or manager, avoid micromanagement?

Identifying micromanagement

There is indeed a difference between paying attention to the team, ensuring regular follow-up, providing support... and showing excessive control. The line is certainly blurred, and micromanagers can hide behind the desire to do well (no one wants to be a bad manager!). Here are some examples of the micromanager's negative habits:

  • A compulsive need to review the smallest detail: the size of a font, the time of a meeting, the time spent on a file, the "online"/"offline" status when working from home...
  • Continuous reporting requests from employees. This not only indicates that the manager is unable to delegate, and therefore unable to trust, but it adds a lot of work for team members.
  • Involvement in every decision, however insignificant, just like being kept in copy of all emails.
  • Controlling agendas: the schedule of appointments, the timetable of each team member...

Although such intentions are not always bad and a certain amount of control can avoid mistakes, the cost associated with the lack of trust in the team has a very negative impact in the long term. How can you develop and gain confidence and autonomy with a manager constantly on your back? The productivity and well-being of employees are affected, as well as the general atmosphere and performance of the company as a whole.


The harmful effects of micromanagement

Being present at every step of your employees' work presents risks for both the company and the team. To begin with, this style of management affects productivity simply because it is extremely time-consuming for teams. Incessant reporting, systematic back and forth validations before sending a presentation, an email... As a result, team members and managers find themselves in a situation of permanent excessive workload because the work is multiplied by 2. How, in such a situation, can you find the space to create, innovate and challenge yourself?

Furthermore, this lack of trust and delegation inevitably leads to a decrease in motivation among employees. How can you give someone confidence if you systematically check what they do? If you give them the impression that you do not respect or trust their work? How do you engage them if they know in advance that you are going to do their work a second time or check everything? It's simple: if your team feels that you don't trust them, and therefore that you can't rely on them, they will naturally become less engaged. The quality of the work decreases at the same time as motivation. As everything is controlled, it is difficult for employees to discuss and propose an alternative to their managers' vision. Limited in their ability to take actions, micromanaged employees become frustrated and the company's turnover increases. This management method therefore drives away talents. This is probably why it is said that people leave a manager, more than a company...

These time-consuming tasks, combined with a lack of accountability, lead to tension and stress among employees, which can lead to burn-out. By the way, what is the meaning of my work? Why do I get up every morning? The general mission is completely drowned out by micromanagement and morale is undermined by the dissatisfaction of the n+1.

Finally, micromanagement also harms the manager who blocks the career development of team members due to obsessive control. Micromanagers then become the main limiting factor for their teams, acting as the team's bottleneck: by being willing to get involved and make progress on all subjects, they prevent any progress.

How to avoid micromanagement

To get out of micromanagement, you must first admit your excess, then try to understand it and identify the cause of the underlying anxiety. Am I afraid of being replaced? Of making a mistake? Of being seen as useless, uninvolved, incompetent if I don't control everything?

So how can a manager become a hands-on leader without micromanaging?

  • Stop looking for perfection and let go of the less strategic issues. Know how to appreciate the work and vision of each person and accept that the work is not done in your way. A good manager, in addition to being grateful, positive and benevolent, must above all listen, be available and open to differences.
  • Learn to empower employees by involving them more, and by delegating in a more effective and meaningful way. To do this, don't simply assign tasks, explain your expectations by clearly reminding them of the company's vision and objective. "Never tell people how to do something. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity" said George S. Patton, Army General. Patton, a U.S. Army general and leader of one of the world's most traditional command and control groups.
  • Focus more on the objectives rather than the method or the means to achieve them. If your team members leave work early but their goals are good, there is no reason to control. To monitor the objectives of your employees in an organised and focused way, use the OKR or SMART methods.

Benefits of the ORKs- Popwork

  • Choose the moment when you are going to help with clearly defined management rituals. Take a step back regularly by means of check-ins to anticipate the potential roadblocks. To do this, think about developing management rituals, in order to provide support, and rely on simple yet collaborative management tools such as Popwork. They allow you to give constructive feedback regularly, to give your employees time to prove themselves and express their skills.
  • Embrace errors and failure. Of course there will be failures, but show goodwill in trying to identify the cause. "I never lose, either I win or I learn", said Nelson Mandela. A small quote that gently reminds us of the virtues of failure, valued by the philosopher Charles PĂ©pin in a recent book and in this inspiring lecture given at My Little Paris in 2019.
  • Give advice rather than systematically making decisions. For meaningful discussion, learn more about neuromanagement, which allows a team to work together harmoniously through a better understanding of each other.
  • Ask for feedback and help from a mentor, someone you trust. Don’t forget that the difference between management and leadership is the ability to delegate.

On the employees’ side, how can you avoid becoming victim of micromanagement?

  • Consider your manager's possible anxieties, and try to anticipate his or her requests and the tasks he or she might ask of you, by regularly informing him or her of the progress of your work. This is a way of reassuring him/her and showing that you have understood his/her expectations and fears. At the same time, remind him or her that you share the same objectives.
  • Show that you want to be more autonomous and that you are more efficient when you are trusted. Explain why constant monitoring exhausts you, slows you down and prevents you from doing your job well.
  • Remain calm when the situation escalates, and then clarify your needs and your way of working in a one-to-one meeting, to avoid such situations in the future. Ask your manager if he or she is willing to work in a different way, always offer solutions.

The first step is therefore to know the characteristics of micromanagement in order to avoid it better, whether as a manager or as an employee. Of course, it must be borne in mind that reasonable support is always beneficial, even essential, to good management. Control, on the other hand, is often frustrating. Finally, don't forget that you can be a hands-on, committed and organised manager, without falling into the trap of micromanagement. "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea."*.

*Antoine de Saint-Exupéry