This blog post was written in response to the July 2013 Coffee Shop HR World Café topic: “Should micromanagement be viewed as a negative management style?”
We’ve all had a micro-manager – and by that, I don’t mean a really, really small one. Someone who stands over your shoulder and gets involved in the fine detail of everything you’re doing. Someone who can’t let go from the minutiae of your day-to-day job – which you were supposedly hired to do.
And yes, it’s a pain. Yes, it’s bad. And yes, micro-management is an awful, awful way to manage your people. Managers shouldn’t have to micro-manage. They should be able to stand back and see the bigger picture, and draw on the skills of their team to reach their objectives.
That’s a given. But it would be no fun it I wasn’t playing devil’s advocate.
Let’s consider some advantages of micro-management…
1) Under-performing people
Micro-management is a skill. It’s tiring. And it can be highly effective, if done correctly. For instance, if you’ve got a team member who isn’t performing as well as they could be – you have to micro-manage. You can’t let them float away and do everything they want to do… they need constant monitoring.
Your managers have to know when to use it, how to use it, and most importantly, they have to know when to withdraw.
There are people out there who need a framework, and need to be brought down to earth. An old Director of mine called them “creative types” – and every business needs them. Micro-management might annoy them, to a degree, but if you’re going to get the best out of them, you have to know when to let them float off into the clouds, and you have to know when to pull them back onto the ground, and hit every single detail with them.
3) Up-skilling and knowledge transfer
If you’re moving someone through an up-skilling or knowledge transfer process, you can’t let them float off into unknown territory – they’ll get lost and retreat to what they know best. You need to micro-manage this process thoroughly, with benchmarks and milestones to ensure that the employee reaches the desired level of skills.
4) On-boarding someone who is new to the workplace
On-boarding is one of the most micro-managed processes in any organisation, and is indeed appreciated by any new employee who walks into a new office. Graduates need it, and those whose language skills may not be up to scratch will need it while they learn the language. If you can’t micro-manage these instances, people will end up leaving before they’ve settled in.
5) Those you want to chase out of the business
Oh, you’re not allowed to say it, but you really, really would like to see the back of a certain person. She’s replaceable, from a day-to-day work point of view… and she’s a stirrer. A negative influence. How can you make things a little less tolerable? Micro-management.
Chase every detail, chase every e-mail, hold regular 1-to-1 sessions to comb over old ground… it’s not 100% ethical, but neither is making someone redundant. You’re just making work a little less easy.
Perhaps, from my vantage point outside of HR, I can afford to make blithe statements like “micro-manage someone out of the business”, but I do believe that micro-management is a skill, and is best used sparingly – in the right situations. A good micro-manager should know when to let go, and should have a process in place to ensure that the micro-management itself has goals and milestones.