Don’t Micromanage: How It Destroys Your Team and How to Avoid It

micromanage

It’s hard watching someone make mistakes, especially if you already know how to avoid them.

Staying silent while they slip up (or even do things in ways you would not) is harder.

That doesn’t mean you have an excuse to micromanage them.

Micromanagement is the ultimate controlling management style. It’s demoralizing and counter-intuitive, as the desire for control to make sure everything goes to plan only creates more problems in the long-term.

That’s why we here at Process Street will be going through:

  • What micromanagement is
  • The pros and cons of it
  • How to spot a micromanager
  • How to replace micromanagement with OKR
  • Using processes to remove the need for micromanagement

Let’s get started.

What is micromanagement?

micromanagement
(Source by Carbon Tippy Toes, used under license CC BY-SA 2.0)

Micromanagement is exactly what it sounds like; someone trying to personally control and monitor everything in a team, situation, or place.

While this is sometimes useful (in small-scale projects), this usually results in the manager losing track of the larger picture and annoying the team by being overly-controlling.

Let’s say that you’re told to complete a task.

Usually, this would mean that your manager assigns you the job, asks if you need anything and states when it is needed, and then pretty much leaves you to complete the operation. They should be available to talk to without interfering with the work directly and slowing the operation down.

If they instead micromanage, they would either watch your every move or demand progress reports more often than is necessary. They would likely chastise you for the slightest mistake or for carrying out a task differently to how they would have done it.

If you feel like someone’s always watching you work, picking apart every mistake or deviation without due cause, your boss is probably a micromanager..

The pros and cons of micromanagement

Micromanagement isn’t always a bad thing.

Heavily tracking operations and trying to monitor and manage them is useful (if not necessary) when teams are still small. The problems tend to arise when the company grows and the manager can no longer effectively keep up with those elements.

Pros of micromanagement

micro management
(Source by Klean Denmark, used under license CC BY-SA 2.0)

While the negatives of micromanagement quickly stack up, it serves a definite purpose in smaller teams and specific situations. Namely, it:

  • Gives greater control over operations
  • Allows accurate knowledge of metrics and minutia
  • Can help onboard employees (get them up to speed)
  • Makes complex and custom operations more reliable to execute

To micromanage is to have total control over an operation.

The manager has everyone reporting back to them with frequent status reports, letting them check that everything is being done to their standards. This, in turn, is great for guiding smaller teams and new employees.

Extra instruction and guidance helps onboard employees faster, and smaller teams can perform consistently without putting too much strain on the manager.

In other words, as long as there’s not too much information, the person micromanaging it can be a detailed and valid approach.

There are also benefits to micromanaging when dealing with highly complex or customizable orders. These will usually require a great deal of instruction according to the order, which can be provided and tracked if a micromanage style approach is taken.

The problems arise when teams get larger or when employees start to feel stifled…

Cons of micromanagement

how to micromanage
(Source by Winny Wang, used under license CC BY-SA 2.0)

Now we get to the negatives – the main reasons we often think of “micromanage” as a dirty word.

Put bluntly, micromanagement:

  • Annoys employees
  • Is vulnerable to human error on both sides
  • Isn’t scalable at all
  • Makes managers lose sight of the big picture
  • Damages employee trust
  • Leads to burnout in managers and teams alike
  • Can cause employees to become dependent on micromanagement
  • Increases employee turnover rate

Even if you’re working in a small team, imagine what your reaction would be to your manager asking for constant (often needless) progress reports, watching your work like a hawk and criticizing both mistakes and deviations from their own methods.

You’d likely get ticked off something fierce.

I know I would.

When you micromanage you’re telling the employee that you don’t trust them enough to work on their own and still produce good results. This is what leads to employees getting annoyed with managers and damaging the trust they have in the higher-ups.

It also discourages any kind of independent work and decision-making in the team. After all, you wouldn’t have confidence in your actions or choices if everything you did was scrutinized and “corrected”.

In other words, micromanaging employees doesn’t just breed resentment. It makes them dependent on further micromanagement to do their jobs.

Finally, micromanagement isn’t in any way scalable.

Think about it – someone is having to spend every moment of their day reviewing the fine details of what their team is doing. Scaling up means that said team would either grow or take on new duties. Either would mean a huge increase in the information available.

At some point the micromanager themselves can’t keep up with everything, leading to either mistakes due to oversight or burnout.

How to spot a micromanager

how to deal with a micromanager
(Source by Infusionsoft, used under license CC BY-SA 2.0)

Despite covering the pros and cons of micromanagement, it’s not always easy to see when the practice is being used. This is especially true if you’re the one micromanaging (or being micromanaged).

You can’t weed a garden with your eyes closed. You need to be able to see and identify the problem or risk doing more harm than good.

To this end, most micromanagers share a few (although not always all) of the following traits:

  • They don’t delegate
  • Any delegated work is taken over again if a mistake is spotted
  • They hate decisions being made without them
  • Focus is on the little details rather than the big picture
  • Most (or all) of their time is spent overseeing others
  • They ignore the opinion and/or experience of others
  • Frequent updates are requested by them (even if the project isn’t relevant to them)
  • They often find deliverables unsatisfactory

Managing positions are, understandably, the first port of call for scrutiny. This is doubly so in a team that’s recently grown.

Remember, if the team is small enough to micromanage then these traits aren’t necessarily a bad thing. The problem comes when the team expands and their managing techniques don’t adapt to the new scale of operations.

Delegation is a great signifier too, as most micromanagers will either not delegate tasks that they shouldn’t be doing any more or take back delegated duties if they aren’t satisfied with the results.

This approach is tempting and can be seen in many startup founders as their company grows. They start out doing the things they’re good at (such as coding) but when the company grows they have to bite the bullet and delegate that work, even if they loved doing it.

How to replace micromanagement with OKR

micromanage tips
(Source by Corey Seeman, used under license CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Objectives and Key Results (OKR) is a management technique which provides all of the useful elements of micromanagement without the need for total control.

OKRs are generally set every quarter, allowing the team to refocus on key objectives and how to reach them. This is done by:

  • Setting a couple (not usually more than 5) objectives relevant to the audience, be it a team or an individual
  • Making sure that objectives are actionable, quantifiable, have a deadline, and are a little ambitious
  • Define up to 4 measurable results for each objective
  • Results should be difficult but achievable, measurable, and lead to objective progress

While this is usually done with dedicated OKR software, the same result can be achieved with a little more work and paper. As long as the objectives are agreed on by managers and employees alike as being relevant, measurable, and difficult (but achievable), all should be good.

okrs theory
(Source from Weekdone)

Once all of these have been set regular meetings can be held (say, once or twice a week) for everyone to present their progress and give feedback on their OKRs.

Note that I said feedback. This isn’t a one-way street in the same way micromanagement is.

It’s also not a technique about setting high goals and expecting them to be completed. Objectives are ideally a stretch, but that’s to get the most out of your team’s efforts – they’re not supposed to be entirely completed. To that end, if an objective is 75-80% complete, it can usually be considered as being achieved. If anything reaches 100%, try setting the bar higher next time.

Document, don’t micromanage

document dont micromanage

Another great alternative to micromanagement is documenting your workflows. Combined with OKRs (or even largely on its own), this technique can completely eliminate the need and desire to micromanage a team due to the benefits it brings.

Micromanagement is tempting because of the feeling of control it provides. Whoever’s in charge needs to focus on high-level strategy, but they don’t want to give up the ability to check in on individual team members and project progress.

Recording a method to complete common tasks gives everyone specific instructions to follow. This eliminates any confusion surrounding their tasks while reassuring managers that things are being completed to their standards.

Worried about how long it will take or how hard it will be to write and formalize your processes?

Don’t worry. That’s why Process Street exists.

Our platform lets you quickly record task lists as saved templates. You can include as much or as little detail as you like with supporting images, videos, form fields (to capture extra information), and much, much more.

Once finished, these templates can be run as individual checklists. These let you tick off your tasks as you complete them and record your progress as you go.

Managers can then pull previous checklists up to quickly review them or use our template overview feature to see a summary of every checklist run from a given template.

template overview

I haven’t even gotten into the advantages of business process automation (letting you automate your busy work) or our premade templates (ready-made processes which you can import, use, and edit for free), but I think you get the picture.

Don’t let your team fall victim to someone who likes to micromanage. Use the best business process management software on the market by grabbing a free account with Process Street today.

Micromanagement isn’t worth the hassle it creates

Even in situations where the pros of micromanagement are allowed to shine through, it ultimately isn’t worth the long-term issues and bad habits such a system creates.

Despite having a team small enough to effectively micromanage, you still run the risk of alienating employees, diminishing their trust in you, making them dependent on micromanagement and causing team members to burn out.

That’s why documenting your processes is so much more effective.

Even if you’re small-scale, documenting processes gives you all of the benefits of micromanagement with practically none of the negatives. Instructions are given to guide employees but they retain enough autonomy to feel independent.

What are you waiting for? Try it out for free at Process Street.

Do you have any micromanagement horror stories? Let me know in the comments below.

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Ben Mulholland

Ben Mulholland is a Content Marketer at Process Street, and winds down with a casual article or two on Mulholland Writing. Find him on Twitter here.


One Comment

If you have to Micromanage, you have the wrong staff in place with the wrong skill sets. When you hire PM’s you better make sure that these people can handle, are familiar, have experience with your vertical and the challenges that come with it. I as a business owner do not run a not for profit company. The projects we handle as with any business unless your building sandcastles, require employees that dont need to be watched. From A-Z in the project they only need to provide status reports. Not need to be under the watch of a day care provider. If you want to train them then run them through an intern program, AGAIN you will be micromanaging them, until they are competent to perform at an independent status. Bottom line Hire the right people and micromanaging won’t exist. if so barely.


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