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From Hands-On to Knee Deep: How to Avoid the Trap of Micromanaging

From Hands-On to Knee Deep: How to Avoid the Trap of Micromanaging

Free Resource

Nobody likes being micromanaged. While making sure quality work gets done is part of every manager’s job, micromanagers go overboard by applying intense scrutiny to every task, no matter the stakeholder or how minute the details. Micromanagers get too involved and become the bottleneck they’re scrambling to prevent, all while diluting their own productivity and ability to tackle high-level issues.

Micromanaging dilutes your productivity, takes away from your ability to focus on strategic issues and prevents your direct reports from learning and growing.

The first step is to know the symptoms. Muriel Wilkins covers this well in her Harvard Business Review article:

  • Never quite satisfied with deliverables.
  • Often frustrated because you would’ve gone about the task differently.
  • Laser in on the details and take great pride and pain in making corrections.
  • Constantly want to know where all your team members are and what they’re working on.
  • Ask for frequent updates on where things stand.
  • Prefer to be cc’d on emails.

Unfortunately, these often well-intentioned actions foster distrust, kill morale, and prevent employees from growing and innovating. If this sounds like you, it’s time to get comfortable taking a step back, learning to prioritize your time, and giving your people the space they need to learn and succeed. And if this sounds like a colleague or direct report, it may be time to step in and give some candid feedback.

Start with why

The path toward recovery begins with reflection. Think about how you typically justify micromanaging and try reframing those explanations as excuses. Most micromanaging comes from fear of entrusting tasks to others or of feeling out of touch, away from the action, and no longer in the weeds.

When your hands-on instinct kicks in, remind yourself that micromanaging dilutes your productivity, takes away from your ability to focus on strategic issues, and prevents your direct reports from learning and growing. If you can stop doing your direct reports’ jobs, you’ll have more time to do your own.

Focus on what’s important

A micromanager’s obsession over minute details muddles their ability to focus on strategic planning, process improvement, and big-picture trends. The best managers develop talent and delegate, which is impossible with constant interference.

Instead, prioritize your time and focus on the most important challenges and opportunities, while letting direct reports own smaller deliverables. Even if their work isn’t on par with yours, employees need to be challenged and allowed to make mistakes. In the long run, the added accountability will drive performance and engagement, and hopefully, repair any festered resentment over your old micromanaging ways.

Improve your processes

When appropriately applied, the characteristics of a micromanager can be hugely valuable. Instead of tracking your direct reports’ every step, make use of your keen eye for detail by scouring for large operational problems and opportunities to streamline processes.

Workflow: Have you fully fleshed out and communicated who is responsible for what, and how work is passed off between people? You may end up finding holes in your team’s workflows that have enabled or exasperated your micromanaging tendencies.
Reporting: Rather than looking over a direct report’s shoulder as they pore through data, decide on a few KPIs and how often you want updates. You may want to create or find a dashboard tool so you can check performance data at will, instead of interrupting someone every time you're curious.
Hiring: If you don’t trust your team and never will, your failure began before your direct reports’ first day. It may be time to revisit how you vet and interview candidates, how you evaluate and communicate goals for new hires, or identify a deep-rooted reason for your distrust.

Schedule recurring progress updates

The best way to satisfy your need to know what’s going on without badgering your team is to set up a regular status update meeting. Be sure to clearly communicate what metrics you want updates on. This as an easy opportunity to start building trust, improving your communication skills, and creating a structure so direct reports aren’t wondering when you’ll interrupt them next.

Use this meeting to practice articulating your expectations and vision for each project, without being too hands-on and controlling. If the insights and project progress aren’t up to your expectations, give feedback focused on teaching, instead of fixing the problem yourself.

Improve communication

Don't expect to move on from your micromanaging ways overnight. You and your direct reports need to build trust in each other, which takes effort and patience. But if you can apply the tactics most relevant to your situation, you should notice some early, encouraging progress. Consider these final takeaways as a short checklist to get on track:

  • Figure out when the small stuff isn’t worth your time, and at what point to lean on direct reports to get things done.
  • Be clear about what you expect from your team and avoid hand-holding.
  • Give feedback focused on teaching, not just correcting.
  • If there’s an urgent deadline or particularly challenging project, explain why you’re more hands-on than normal.
  • Build toward a goal of getting your team to complete projects without your guidance.
  • Schedule regular one-on-ones to give private feedback and stay aligned on goals and objectives.

Micromanaging is a hard habit to break, but doing so is crucial to your team’s growth and your success as a manager. It takes a concerted and consistent effort to outgrow these tendencies, and repair your team’s chemistry. Otherwise, you’re going to burn out your team and yourself, while destroying whatever morale was left.