Tag Archives: Management Styles

Should micromanagement be viewed as a negative management style?

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?”

Bonnie Milne, PhD

Bonnie Milne, PhD

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!

Is micromanagement such a bad thing?

Gareth Cartman

Gareth Cartman

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.

2) Dreamers
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.