Don’t Be a Micro Manager

January 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

”If you buy a trained watchdog you do not go out at night and bark at strangers. You don’t bark. The watchdog does the barking.”  (Jeff Fox)

This makes sense of course, but something happens to sense when we hire people to do a job and then turn them loose to do that job. We meddle.  The manager’s job is to hire good people, provide purpose, direction and scope, tools and resources, training as needed.  Then, let them execute.  Let them make mistakes. Let them learn from mistakes.  Help them with feedback and support.  Be a safety net where you can.  Check in (as agreed upon) on how things are going, but don’t do their work. Don’t over-check.

OK, this is easier said than done.  Take, for example, an engineering manager suffering from “reportomania” (requests for unnecessary and overly detailed reports); or a well meaning sales manager on a ride along, who in a moment of anxiety, hijacks the sales call from her experienced salesman.  Both are driven by the desire to have the work go well.  But what’s the effect of their behavior?

  1. Increased likelihood of keeping the project on track, closing the sale (perhaps).
  2. Resentment towards the manager from the employee.
  3. Employee believes that the manager doesn’t trust his/her work or judgment.
  4. Employee is focused on doing things “the manager’s way” (looking up), versus focusing on their objectives and working in ways that would move them to success.
  5. Increased compliance, decreased passion, commitment & engagement.
  6. Retention at stake.
  7. Manager’s (and company’s) reputation diminished, and thus diminishing the chances of attracting and hiring the highest qualified candidates in the future

Most of us are good people, and most of us are guilty of micromanaging from time to time yet unaware of our sin. Perhaps we are following a model set forth by a previous manager (or parent).  Maybe we are perfectionists with a single-minded view of how things (most things?) MUST be done.  Often, micromanaging behavior is motivated by the fear that we aren’t useful and valuable unless we do something to appear so.  This last one is a common trap – and challenge – for first time managers.  It’s hard to give up one’s experience & success at doing individual contributor work to enter the sloppy, wilderness frontier of managing people’s behavior and motivation.  We know we were good at engineering or sales.  That’s likely the reason we were promoted. We don’t know how well we’ll succeed with the wet work.

If you wondering if you are micromanaging,  it would be worth it to check-in with your employees.  Next time you have a project review meeting, or even an informal status chat, ask them:

“I’ve been thinking that I could give up some of the control and checking in I’ve been doing on project X. Is that something you think would work for you? What would that look like?”

Then try the new plan for 2 weeks and have a follow-up discussion to see how your new & improved relationship to their work is working.

Good Luck!

This post was inspired by & adapted from chapter XXI.

A great book.

Thank you Jeff!


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