“When am I guilty of micro-managing? What’s a reasonable way to sort that out?” I’ve been asked that one many times by line supervisors and managers who aren’t sure whether they’re coming on too strong, or not coming on strongly enough. Often what triggers that question is that the manager has had some sort of run-in with an employee, the term “micro-managing” has been tossed into the discussion, and the manager has been thrown off – isn’t quite sure how to react.
The textbooks say micro-managing isn’t good – that it impedes employee initiative, generates resentment, and comes from a “controlling” temperament. And, as far as it goes, that’s right. In a healthy environment, with an even distribution of reasonable people, micro-managing is both unnecessary and disrespectful. It really can actually reduce employee productivity.
The problem is, of course, in the real world all of that tends to overlook, or at least sidestep, the crucial issue of accountability. In many workplaces, the key quality that “makes” someone as a manager is his or her courage and willingness to step up and take responsibility for the successful completion of the work product. So often, employees interpret corrective feedback as evidence the supervisor doesn’t like them, is set against them. Since these managers know that their own job performance is being closely monitored, the motivation is therefore huge to be right on top of real and imagined problems – in fact, failure to anticipate and act on “preventable” situations is one of the main reasons managers lose their jobs.
Which is why many have learned from direct, often bitter, experience to be proactive, head toward and lock onto potential problems early and often. And that takes us back to the beginning. What’s a reasonable level of checking in and monitoring, and when does that morph into micro-managing – and who makes that call?
If, where you’re working, the workplace culture isn’t essentially healthy, the sad truth is: you’re mostly on your own – sorry – which means it boils down to your own trial and error, and the hope that a huge “error” doesn’t occur before enough “trials” allow you to scope out and adapt to what’s really true – how surreal it actually gets – when the buck stops in that workplace.
Still – the larger truth is that good managers don’t grow on trees, especially these days. You probably won’t get hung out to dry just because an employee threw a phrase out there. Be humble, admit mistakes, stay in learning mode, but also: stick to your guns and don’t run scared.