How Not to Micromanage: 5 Strategies

Your good intentions might be permanently damaging workplace relationships.

If you've ever been micromanaged, you fully understand the aggravating confidence-busting results that can occur. (Frustration, decreased motivation and possibly disengagement from work, to name a few.) When your supervisor doesn't seem to understand the negative consequences that micromanaging brings—work life can become quite miserable.

However, if you are that manager (or desire to manage others in the future) and have concerns that you tend toward micromanagement—there is little advice to help "save you" from yourself. Interestingly, it may seem that the root of micromanaging squarely begins with the behavior of a struggling employee. However, there is another competing perspective to consider. A need to micromanage, could be the result of neglecting a few very necessary best practices.

If you ignore these practices, you are undermining the very work that you are so fiercely protecting. (See this post, for the "self-talk," that often precedes this behavior.)

So, let's explore a few everyday practices that may help curb a tendency to micromanage:

  • Become ever mindful of the potential consequences. Pause and consider that micromanagement can permanently damage workplace relationships. Ultimately, you cannot control every individual action—and if you try do so—you may also squelch the very elements you should desire to build: autonomy, independent thought and growth. Sadly, the worst outcomes are very difficult to repair: notably, the damage you wreak upon trust and self-confidence.
  • Evaluate employee strengths in relation to assignments. If performance seems under par, have a conversation with the employee about the scope of his work in relation to his skill set. Sometimes an employee is simply not a fit for the work at hand—and this must be addressed in short shrift. Micro-managing will not address these underlying issues. If it becomes evident this is a mismatch of role and skills — take actions to support development.
  • Commit to communicating fully. Many performance issues have much to do with unclear performance expectations about the role, or how the work should actually be completed. (Organizational style and mores come into play.) So, don't skimp on communicating relevant job-related information during onboarding and continue this conversation through the initial months of employment. Furthermore, reinforce best practices at the start of key assignments. If you invest more time with your employee up front, there will be far fewer issues to potentially micromanage down the line.
  • Discuss feedback mechanisms. Individual differences reign here. While we all must be accountable, what is acceptable "check-in wise" to one contributor may seem completely suffocating another. Be sure to discuss and agree upon the level of day-to-day supervision that works for both you and your employee. If possible, consider utilizing technology (Trello and Basecamp, for example) to dampen your desire to actually step in too frequently. (If you feel you are being micromanaged, I recommend diplomatically discussing this.)
  • Emphasize ongoing learning and development. Our work lives become more challenging by the day. As a result, your staff may require ongoing training to remain prepared. If someone's skills begin to lag behind, explore the training they require to keep pace.

Are you a recovering micromanager? How did you stop the cycle?

Marla Gottschalk, an industrial/organizational psychologist, is the director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto.

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