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?”
Negative is a very strong word. To me the connotation is that there is nothing positive about it – it’s at the very far end of the ‘wrong’ scale.
I define micromanagement as giving very clear instructions and following up on every detail to make sure that these instructions are carried out ‘to the letter’.
I don’t think that any management style can be seen as completely negative so micromanagement must have some redeeming qualities. Perhaps there is a time when it is necessary, like when an employee is just starting out, or learning a new task or when the task is critical, like in nursing and the person needs to learn the protocol correctly and completely. These situations might make micromanagement a necessity – at least in the beginning.
In the long term, once a person has learned the steps, the protocol, or the correct procedure, as the case may be, micromanagement is no longer necessary. The supervisor can move on to a different style that works for the employee and the supervisor.
Micromanagement ensures that employees do their work to the manager’s standard. It doesn’t encourage initiative or creativity – it simply sets a standard and maintains it. I have found that I am less likely to take care with my work when I am being micromanaged. I know that my supervisor will double check everything so if there is an error, it will get caught. Sometimes I think the supervisor will be happier if she finds an error to fix. This, unfortunately, encourages her to continue to check every detail, reinforcing the cycle.
In the first HR job I had, I was asked to draft letters for my manager and she would go over them, marking them up with a red pen, pointing out changes she wanted me to make. We had entirely different styles of writing, so there would be many changes. I didn’t try to adapt my writing to fit her style; I simply rebelled, wrote terribly, and waited for her to rewrite the letters in her style. It was a waste of our time, but we kept at it. I was, after all, reinforcing her need to check the letters carefully. I see that now, but at the time, I felt I insulted and couldn’t think of another approach.
Micromanagement, like any management style works, but it has limitations. It seems to me, that as always, communication is the key. If you feel that you must micromanage, explain the need for it to the employee and describe the process you will take. In other words, explain that, when the employee has learned and executed the procedure correctly a number of times (be specific about the number), you will change your approach. And remember to ask for suggestions for improvements to the process. Do this early in the game, while the employee is just learning. This is the time when s/he will best be able to see improvements or ask questions. Perhaps you will find that you are, in fact, micromanaging an outdated process!