Know the signs--and what not to do--to avoid micromanagement

Micromanaging isn't necessarily a bad thing but, done to an extreme, it can hinder staff productivity. What other management issues are you trying to solve? Post a question or dilemma, and Peter Woolford will try to help!


I'm an IT manager who likes to keep my hand in the day-to-day activities of my staff. Recently a colleague told me I'm a micromanager. I don't consider myself one, but what are the signs and how do I avoid micromanaging?


Your question brings to mind the old phrase: If you have to ask, you already have a problem. Then the question is, "What is that problem?"

Micromanaging and managing are really the same thing. They're just viewed differently. Managers want to know what team members are doing every minute of every day. Employees want to be left alone. This is an age-old problem.

As a manager, your job is to get the most out of your employees. You are paid to make the team productive and are evaluated on how much work you can get out of your team. The variables are: how many hours your team works; what they work on during those hours; and how fast they work. You can affect these variables by inspecting their work, telling them what to do, and motivating them. The fine art of management is to balance each of these.

Know the signs

What are the signs that you are micromanaging?

  • A strong sign is when someone tells you that you are micromanaging, of course. But why did you receive that comment? People are obviously talking about your management style. There are multiple possible causes for this, and they don't necessarily mean you are micromanaging. There may be other issues.
  • You could be inspecting peoples' work more than the other managers. The team is griping to other managers because you are in fact micromanaging. In this scenario, you are not only micromanaging, but your team is not communicating with you. Why did they need to complain to another manager rather than speak to you directly?
  • It may be your inspection style. You may be inspecting to the same level as other managers, but they sell it better. They may be sticklers on the details, but appear to a have a more laissez faire style. Are you doing a good job of selling why the work needs to be inspected? The other manager may simply have a team that is more accepting of management direction. Some teams take direction well, while others bridle at the smallest suggestion.
  • What is the culture at your company? Every company has a median management style and typical activities that are inspected and tracked. Are you an outlier on what and how you inspect, or are you near the middle? If you are near the middle, then probably the answer lies either with your ability to sell the need for inspection, or the answer is your team doesn't take direction well.

(Of course, you could be managing as you should be, and your employees don't like it. Anyone whose behavior is being modified will likely grumble. If this is the case, your issue is that underachievers are hurting morale.)

Avoiding the trap

Let's assume you conclude you are micromanaging. What do you do about it? Make a thorough list of what you are inspecting and to what level. You will likely find there are items on that list that are needlessly inspected or that always pass muster.

The question then is really trust. Can you trust the team to get the work done? Are they doing the right work? Are they on schedule? If the answer to all of these is yes, then you should be spending your time managing another group, and they don't need you. Or the goals and milestones of the team aren't set high enough.

Realistically, teams need to be managed. The key is to manage them on their weak points, not on everything. Our adage at Kforce is "inspect what you expect." In practice, that means everything is inspected, but the focus is on the areas that need improvement.

Another concern with micromanaging is that you may be getting in the way or doing the team's work for them. You can and should expect them to produce high-quality work and meet the scheduled commitments, but remember to let them work.

Everyone deserves to be micromanaged to some extent, but a good manager micromanages the right issues, not everything.

What are your experiences with micromanagement, both as a manager and an employee? Post your comments in the discussion below. Peter will be reading the threads and is eager to continue a dialogue on this topic.

We also want your follow-up questions on this and other personnel management topics. Post them in the discussion below or e-mail them to us.

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