by Robert S. Tipton
“One person’s micromanagement is just another person’s way of making sure none of their employees mess anything up so badly that it will come back and reflect negatively on them.”
Now, I don’t know if anyone ever said that before — or if I just made it up (I did make up the logo to the left!) — but often those who are described (by others) as micromanagers don’t see themselves that way.
In my experience, most micromanagers secretly congratulate themselves on their ability to get things done, to make things happen — especially in the face of so many “unworthy” subordinates with whom they have to deal.
It’s a sickness — a sickness born out of fear, and a sickness that’s grown to epidemic proportions during the economic meltdown during the past few years.
What do we do about epidemics? We find a cure, and in this case, I’m proposing creating the group called “Micromanagers Anonymous (MA).”
“Hi, my name is Earl, and I’m a micromanager…”
The Cost of “Not” Finding a Cure
Add this “fear-enduced” motivation for micromanagement to these three sobering facts:
- The top two reasons employees voluntarily leave their jobs today? Poor leadership, and bad relationships with their bosses. (Right Management Survey, November 2011)
- 1 in 3 Americans will leave their current employer once the economy improves enough to give them the “way out” (US Department of Labor, January 2011)
- Eighty-four percent of employees polled said they plan to look for a new position in 2012 (Right Management Survey, November 2011)
What’s an obvious conclusion to draw from this data? The costs to the organizations that end up losing 1 in 3 (or more) of their employees will be enormous (just imagine the recruiting and onboarding costs to replace 1/3 of your workforce!). And, organizations having bad bosses masquerading as micromanagers will compound their losses and disproportionally push out more than their “average” 1 in 3. That’s scary — or should be.
Okay — I can hear some of you saying, “But what’s my alternative? I HAVE to micromanage — otherwise nothing gets done!”
Fair enough — there are RARE circumstance where short-term micromanagement is justified (like a flight attendant directing passengers immediately following a plane crash), but outside of emergencies, taken in the long-term view, micromanagement FAILS every time, eventually.
Why? Either the micromanager mentally burns to a crisp, and winds up drooling while chanting TV commercial slogans from the 60s as they bang their head on the wall, or they create such performance and quality bottlenecks in their organization that they become the source of significant problems.
Either way, the micromanager fails — and their organizations, employees, products, stakeholders, etc. are short-changed along the way. Remember, micromanagement is about the fear of being out of control. And it can be a form of bullying — taken to an extreme… At one end of the continuum are the worry-warts of the world — at the other end are dictators like Hitler and Stalin (And all dictators throughout history have failed. ALL of them).
The micromanaging manager will eventually move from hero to zero. Count on it.
What to do about it?
First — let’s recognize that the VAST majority of micromanagement out there today is environmental, and not personality based. “Some” people are just going to be micromanagers, no matter what — but I don’t believe that’s representative of the majority of micromanaging managers.
Simple. The economy, the pressure to do more with less faster, and the resulting fear of losing a job has created a climate RIPE for micromanagement. It’s as if many managers believe they CAN’T AFFORD (literally and metaphorically) to run the personal risk to trust their subordinates. Strangely (and unhealthily), the pressure and fear of losing their own job makes it seem “safer” for the manager not only to do his or her own job, but do all the jobs of all their employees at the same time.
Again, it’s a sickness.
Further, this disease is also highly contagious — get a micromanager in the executive ranks, and watch out. It’ll spread like bad gossip. Even the biggest blue-sky thinker, the most right-brained person, the most empathetic, compassionate, and trusting individual can become addicted to micromanagement — given the right set of circumstances.
Whether it’s with your children (and your fear that their study habits will disallow entry into Stanford, MIT, etc.), your homeowner’s association (and the height of your neighbor’s fence, the color of the house across the street, etc.), your bike club, your work team, or your __________, ALL of us can become addicts to micromanaging if we’re pushed too far into fear and discomfort.
Again, ANYONE can become a micromanager.
Therefore, rather than just condemning the person who may be micromanaging you at work, maybe we could look at the circumstances that caused them to act that way in the first place. Let’s look at helping them instead of condemning them. What a difference that might make!
(We will also avoid the potential of hearing them give bad renditions of “Speedy Alka Seltzer” or “Winston Tastes Good…” jingles should they burn out in the future!)
Micromanagers Anonymous Twelve Step Program
I’m sure no one reading this post is actually addicted to micromanagement, and therefore no one would qualify for membership in MA. None of “us” fall into that category, right? (I can stop whenever I want!) So, we’ll just proceed in “3rd person” terms related to “others…” or “someone I know, a friend…” That’ll be less confrontational.
Okay — what now related to healing “their” micromanagement? It’s time to hold “interventions” for the micromanagers of the world. It’s time to invite them to MA, and get them started on the 12 steps toward becoming a trusting, coach-like, empowering manager. The time is NOW!
In the spirit of MA, here are the 12 steps from another “anonymous” program when it comes to getting past an addiction. You tell me whether they might work for you (oh, wait – “your friend”) when it comes to overcoming an addiction to micromanagement. BTW — I’ve added some “editorial comments” in italics to try and make them more directly applicable to the world of work. Again, you tell me how effective I’ve been at doing that…
- Step 1 – We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable as we tried to micromanage everyone else and their lives
- Step 2 – Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity – or the Power would find a way to terminate us, thus making our greatest fear a reality
- Step 3 – Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God – or at least became aligned with the corporate vision statement related to being “an employer of choice”
- Step 4 – Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves – or finally, objectively, really listened to the 360 degree feedback we’d received from our employees
- Step 5 – Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs – or became vulnerable, a least once, in front of our supervisor and our employees related to how our micromanaging created more problems that it solved
- Step 6 – Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character – or made a REAL commitment to follow the leadership development plan HR created for us
- Step 7 – Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings – or asked our manager for another chance to make amends, to prove our ability to coach, teach, trust and empower our staff
- Step 8 – Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all – I can’t add anything to this one
- Step 9 – Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others – I can’t add anything to this one either
- Step 10 – Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it – ditto
- Step 11 – Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out – ditto
- Step 12 – Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs – ditto
Some Other Resources
In the “who knew” category, there’s an entire website devoted to stopping micromanaging. They talk about MMD, or “Micro-Managing Disorder.” CLICK HERE It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek (takes one to know one!), but it’s worth taking a look at the site.
Next — here’s a REALLY cool video from RSA Animate (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce — part of the British Government) that talks about Daniel Pink’s book, “Drive.” This video has good medicine for micromanagers, and I nominate it to be permanently included in the Micromanagers Anonymous hall of fame. It’s 10 minutes of amazing.
How do you cure MA? By understanding just what motivates “real” productivity.
Micromanagers take heart. There’s help out there for you — and for your employees as a result. Be bold, be brave, be accountable, and be about becoming a trusting, coaching, empowering leader! The world needs you to do that instead.
You need you to do this instead too. You know it.