Taking the “Micro” Out of Micromanagement

Seven Steps Toward Shifting From Micromanagement to Management

On our way to trying to make new things happen, we often bump into our own self-sabotaging behaviors. In our Journey of Not Knowing programs, we call them “hooks.” Hooks are defensive behaviors that allow us to avoid the scariness of trying new ideas or behaviors. One of the most common hooks is micromanagement.

Even saying the word, “micromanagement,” causes a chuckle of recognition from an audience. I have often remarked, “If you don’t know what micromanagement is, you’ve never worked.” I have yet to have anyone disagree.

Having said that, what is micromanagement?  

Micromanagement shows up behaviorally as a need to compulsively control the actions of others. Micromanagers deeply fear of loss of control. Not knowing where things will end up is scary and unacceptable, even when the eventual result is hard to know. Instead of accepting a variable path toward an outcome, not to mention the variability of the outcome itself, the micromanager tries to steer every detail of the work. They want to test each component immediately to make sure it works. It gives them an illusion that they can predict and control the ultimate result.

What really gets tested is the nerves of those at the receiving end of micromanagement. When everything from how to choreograph a presentation to what font to use is curated by a micromanager, the most common result is disempowerment, apathy and, too often, a mediocre product. One person, in this case, the micromanager, cannot own every good idea. Different people bring different ideas and talents.

Most of us micromanage from time to time. Stressful situations–clients demanding better service, a team missing an important deadline, or a sudden plunge in sales–can not help but to cause anxiety. The natural response is to try to fix the problem and fix it fast to get rid of the stress.

What’s the problem with Micromanagement?

The problem with micromanagement is that while you can adjust small things at the periphery-worrying about a meeting time, how many copies to make, or who will sit where in a meeting- you will only succeed in diverting your energy, and that of your team, from solving the deeper problem. Defining what lies beneath the issue requires taking the time to explore and learn, and not trying to control a situation you can’t understand until you take that time. The reward is a more strategic solution, an engaged team and, ultimately, lowering of your stress.

Sidenote:  Is micromanagement ever appropriate?

Yes, but when you feel it is necessary to control the traffic, use it as a watch sign. For example, the person to whom you have assigned the task is underperforming because he or she is not qualified to do the job, or does not show promise of getting there within the timeframe you need.

Another example is an urgent situation that calls for your many years of relevant experience to know how to prevent further harm. Once the most urgent issues are under control, turn the work over to a team, following the Seven Steps below.

From micromanagement to management:

How do you resist the urge to micromanage, and instead manage a stressful situation strategically? In short, how do you move from micro to management?

The key is to slow down and broaden your view. What is the bigger idea that needs to be advanced and how do you maximize its chances with the help of others?

Here are Seven Steps toward shifting from micromanagement to management:

  1. Recognize when you are triggered. Learn to recognize when something sets off a need to control. You might feel a stab of anxiety, anger, annoyance or icy calm as you decide to take charge of a situation you dislike.
  1. Notice how you instinctively respond. If you find yourself wanting to tear down the hall barking orders, stop. You are heading in the wrong direction.
  1. Stop the speeding train of anxiety. Some take a deep breath. Others take a walk. Still, others sit still. The key is to start the process of detaching from your emotional reaction.
  1. Make a plan. You need to develop a plan to define the business problem and assemble the right team to implement it. It should include:
  • What is the core issue and who can help you to frame it?
  • What skills, attributes, and other talents do you need to solve the issue? That could include such things as the ability to perform market analyses, high communication skills with difficult people, a knack for decoding complicated concepts into easy to read graphics, and a skilled politician with access to the aggrieved party.
  • Once you have identified the right skills, attributes, and other talents, match them to the right people. The primary consideration should be that you know the person has the right talent, not whether you know the person or feel loyalty to someone else.
  1. Assemble the team and launch the initiative. Bring all the players together, whether their involvement is brief or for the duration for the initiative. Create a roadmap with actions, assignments as to who leads what, who decides what, and agreed dates. Don’t worry about small steps and allow for course corrections that you can facilitate. Then launch the work.
  1. Monitor any ongoing temptation to micromanage. If while the work is going on, you feel the urge to step in and steer the efforts of others rather than focusing on the strategic goals, step back, sit still, breathe, think on those goals, rinse and repeat. If it helps, ask a trusted colleague to let you know if they see you slipping into micromanaging.
  1. Do some personal homework on why you micromanage. People micromanage for several reasons. It can be purely a behavioral habit of doing things yourself as a sole proprietor or working in an individually oriented culture. It also can rise from more psychological issues of trust that can go back to family of origin issues. Whatever is true for you, the more you understand your underlying motivators, the more successful you will be in overcoming the urge to control where control is not the best option.

From Micromanagement to Management

Converting micromanagement into management takes practice, a lot of it. However, the more you try, the easier it will be for you to benefit from and enjoy the creative energy of others.

Leave a Reply