“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 managers who aren’t sure whether they’re coming on too strong, or not coming on strongly enough. Often what’s going on at the time that question is being posed is that a manager has had some sort of run-in with an employee, the term “micro-managing” has been tossed into the discussion, and the manager isn’t quite sure how to react.
All the textbooks say micro-managing isn’t good – that it impedes employee initiative, generates resentment, and indicates 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 can actually reduce employee productivity.
The problem is that in the real world it tends to overlook, or at least sidestep, the issue of accountability. In many workplaces, the key quality that makes someone a manager is his or her willingness to step up and take responsibility for the satisfactory completion of the work product. Since these managers know that their own job performance is being closely monitored, the motivation is 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 bitter experience to be vigilant, 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, when does it morph into micro-managing – and who decides?
If, where you’re working, the workplace culture isn’t essentially healthy, the sad truth is you’re on your own – sorry – which then means it boils down to trial and error, and the hope that a huge “error” doesn’t occur before enough “trials” allow the manager to scope out and adapt to what’s really true – how surreal it gets – when the buck stops in that workplace.
But I should also add that sincerely not wanting to be a micromanager really does help it not happen. Reasonable vigilance, making sure to be aware of reactions employees have when being corrected or re-directed, usually results in minimizing that problem you’d rather not have.