Nov 16, 2023

Uncovering micromanagement realities

Evaristus Effa
3 minutes

Micromanagement is a leadership style where a supervisor or manager controls and monitors employees excessively after assigning a task to their direct report. This can stem from perfectionism, where some managers have high standards for themselves and their work and must ensure that everything is done exactly as they envision.

Micromanagers may not always be aware of their behavior or its negative impact on their teams. For instance, some companies may adopt a more hierarchical or authoritative management approach, potentially leading to micromanagement tendencies. In the tech industry, there have been instances where specific individuals have been described or rumored to exhibit micromanagement behaviors, such as Larry Page, co-founder of Google (now Alphabet Inc.), Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, Larry Ellison, the co-founder and former CEO of Oracle Corporation, Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple Inc. and Marissa Mayer, the former CEO of Yahoo. While some may argue that micromanagement can lead to increased efficiency and quality, it often has adverse effects on managers, direct reports, and the overall success of a project.

Micromanagement can be a tempting management style for many leaders, especially when they feel a strong sense of ownership and responsibility for their projects. In some cases, people can adopt micromanagement after they have spent many years in a role, working with a company or a product. Research studies in business management have shown that employees do not like being micromanaged, as it kills creativity and stifles personal growth. Yet, we have continuous accounts from employees across different sectors narrating the experience of micromanagement.

Let's consider the example of a product manager in the technology sector:

"I left my first company after four years. My manager always looked over my shoulder and pulled me up on the tiniest things, making me feel inadequate. It was frustrating. Don’t get me wrong, I learned a lot from her, but it would have been nice if she had trusted the quality of my work and my expertise. Later in my career, I encountered another micromanager. It was deflating that, even with seven years of experience working on over eight software solutions, I now doubted myself again. I felt something was missing on every report, user story, and PRD I worked on. I always had anxiety and panic attacks whenever I had my work being reviewed by my manager. I was eventually moved to another team after I spoke with HR and assigned to a different manager who trusted my work and encouraged me.”

The micromanagers in this scenario, rather than guiding an employee and supporting them, instead provided frequent criticism of the employee’s work and processes. This left little room for independent decision-making. As tempting as it may seem for leaders to micromanage, the issues micromanagement poses to a project and the team in general outweigh the benefits:

1) High turnover rate: Due to constant monitoring and micromanagement, employees tend to become a ‘flight risk’ looking for other roles to escape controlling leaders. Continuous experience with the same manager and even multiple managers in the same company or industry will force employees to find new opportunities at other organizations.

2) Stifled creativity and lack of strategic thinking: If one boss assumes that their decision and ideas are the best and most beneficial for the business, the company can suffer. Teams require innovation and collaboration to succeed, which includes ideas and brainstorming sessions from all relevant employees, not just the manager. If collaboration is limited, the business is on the verge of not delivering its expected objectives.

3) Anxiety and increased stress levels: Technologists possess the skills, education, and knowledge required to execute assigned tasks at their organizations. So, a team leader who micromanages exhibits a lack of trust in the employee's ability to perform the job, which leaves them feeling demotivated and lacking interest in work. This can also leave the employee with increased stress levels, ultimately killing productivity.

4) Dependent staff: A micromanaged employee becomes dependent and unwilling to take risks or make decisions for the business. This results from too much control from the manager, insisting their decisions are the correct ones to follow. As a result, the employees become 'yes people' to whatever their manager says for fear of disapproval.

5) Loss of team support: Micromanagement discourages team members from cooperating and assisting managers when needed. Suppose the manager requires ideas from the team. In that case, they become reluctant to help because the team leader is not supportive; instead, they view work and employee contributions negatively.  

Despite the dangers of micromanagement, it is surprising how many people still exhibit this management style. Organizations should continually dissuade their leaders from micromanaging their teams to ensure employee retention, increased productivity, and team camaraderie.

Organizations can prevent micromanagement by providing induction workshops for new and existing staff, especially the ones in supervisory and management roles. These workshops focus on recognizing the importance of trust, empowerment, and delegation and help to create an environment that fosters autonomy, collaboration, and professional growth. Requesting regular employee surveys will also help gauge how the team feels, helping mitigate the risks of micromanagement.

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