IT Employment

Beware of the lateral micromanager

We all know what an unwelcome guest the micromanager is when it's actually a manager. But what about the co-worker who likes to micromanage?

We all know what an unwelcome guest the micromanager is when it's actually a manager. But what about the co-worker who likes to micromanage?

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We've written a lot at TechRepublic about the dreaded micromanager. From the rate of response we get to those pieces, micromanagement must be the bane of workplaces the world over. Well, guess what? There's a new strain of the micromanagement virus you'll be hearing about: lateral micromanagement. It's the same aggravating butting in and controlling behavior except, in this case, it's coming from a peer instead of a boss.

The lateral micromanager is a co-worker who feels he or she has to have some kind of hand in everything that goes on. It's the person who, even though he hasn't been asked, comes behind you to check on your work and then points out every miniscule mistake you've made.

Perfectionism is hard on the practitioner himself. Can you imagine how welcome it is by another party? Coming from a boss, micromanagement can at least be taken in a somewhat constructive vein. The boss is at least at a level that feedback is appropriate. But it's a little unsettling to have a co-worker micro-involved in your work. (Yes, I just made up that word "micro-involved.")

The lateral micromanager might truly have the best interests of the company or the employee at heart, but it's an extremely touchy area when it extends to co-workers. There is the feeling of "Why are you watching my work so closely?" and the implication that the lateral micromanager is placing himself somewhere above you on the food chain.

I'd like to hear from any lateral micromanagers out there and ask what drives them. Also, if you've been micromanaged by a peer, let's hear your war stories.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

23 comments
michalshome
michalshome

Lateral Micromanager personality: Oldest sibling, outgoing, risk taker and need to feel others know I know it all. LOL It gets old, when you get old. Michalshome

lexys
lexys

We had one for a while, he was the Sales Manager's son employed in Despatch, and soon he was doing the rounds telling all of us how to do our jobs. He especially tried to power trip over the women. He was in the our Production Manager's ear so much, he was made "Production Expediter" if you can believe that such a position exists! As you can imagine, we all resisted this. So then we had to attend a meeting where the PM drew a "tree" on the whiteboard to explain how the Production Expediter was in charge of all of us and we all had to listen to him when he tells us to do something. Of course we never co-operated, he soon became disgruntled enough to quit, where management happily accepted his resignation instead of offering more money (which is what he hoped for).

jim
jim

I've seen some good posts here about why a co-worker might try to micromanage laterally. I believe several of those statements are mixing up what micro-managing is, in my opinion. douglassmccann had a good post explaining why a team member might take on extra responsibility to avoid tanking a project in the presence of weak management. That would be showing leadership, not micro-managing. Someone else mentioned not wanting to clean up the mess of a co-worker not doing their job right. That's certainly understandable. I believe the right approach would be to talk to your immediate supervisor about your concerns with the quality of the person's work, as well as some assertiveness in expressing your unwillingness to take up the slack. The extra checking and re-work serves undesired functions, besides angering the target co-worker. 1. It conceals the quality problem (if one exists) from upper management and it can't be dealt with properly. This leaves the lateral micro-manager in the position to keep doing it forever. 2. The extra checking and re-work severely reduces productivity. Cost to the business skyrockets. 3. Morale suffers on all sides. I would define micro-managing as: Unnecessary, unwanted and intrusive critical scrutiny of one's job performance by another person, the impact of which sends an unspoken message to the target that they are incompetent. In a sense, it is a form of workplace bullying.

douglasmccann
douglasmccann

Everybody has their place. A lateral micromanager? A positive influence? I would say in a weak matrix environment, definitely, yes! For instance, you're loaned out from your department (support group) to another department (implementation group) to assist them with implmenetation. On arriving you discover that the manager's lazy and is currently living off past glory from his staff's trojan efforts. He exhibits light-touch management with a real laissez-faire mentality, living off a healthy bonus, acheiving his targets on foot of the workers hard work. Sound familiar? Meanwhile his workers, not rewarded for their heroic efforts, say "The next time he asks me to do something I'll do EXACTLY as he says. If he forgot to include a requirement and needs extra re-work later or late evenings he can go and whistle Dixie!". Knowing that the manager is pretty much a deadweight, the workers are not motivated and will deliberately make mistakes, you're stuck in the middle. You know that mistakes will be shoved back to your group and you'll be spending unecessary long hours cleaning up a mess at some future date. Do you just keep the head down and get on with your work knowing that you'll have to retrace your steps with future rework at a future date? Not at all. Why? In reality, you're just re-arranging chairs on the desk on the Titanic? Enter stage left, your appearance complete with micromanagement ensuring that everything will be captured? This will save YOUR team. Is it a detrimental step for the other team and manager? No way! The manager was weak, cracks were emerging with the team and now everybody is demotivated. There's no trust, a complete breakdown, the team is broken because of weak management. The manager must be replaced. Your efforts will be noticed and will probably expedite the sidestepping or release of the head beancounter back into the wild. You've entered this new group staring at the horizon from the wheel of the Marie Celeste where you see people rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic in the distance with not a Captain in sight! Becuase of weak management you micromanage, but again this will only occur if you are a high energy individual who cares about your work.

bfpower
bfpower

I am in the IT dept of a spoke office for a medium-large corporation. Our IT used to report to the IT maanger of another spoke office. Unfortunately, even though her boss has been fired and the offices split completely, she still micromanages things at our office occasionally, including distributing IM software to all our local managers without so much as CCing me on the email. Not to mention we have to now go and uninstall the software because they aren't supposed to be using that version.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I have a habbit of making recommendations on how shared directories/files should be named and organized and I tend to be very detailed when training another to cover my tasks. My habits don't include checking other's work unless I've been specifically included in the task though.

edjuwatson
edjuwatson

I can definitely relate! It is awkward to be in that position, especially when you have more education, and a better sense of how to communicate as a whole. Not only is the co-worker a lateral micromanager, but they also relay a sense of incompetence (of me) to the manager, which does not exsist! Constantly checks over my work, points out all negative things, and when a decision that they made went sour, they blame me. It is definitely grounds for a new environment. ;-) Happy Ruling!

pat
pat

This comment was removed per the OP's request. Message was edited by: tcavadias

Justin James
Justin James

I've been on both sides of this. And sometimes, some people need extra eyes on their work. They might resent it, but at the same time, if I have to choose between keeping an eye on a co-worker, and trying to show them when they are making a mistake (in a positive way, of course), I will choose to get "micro-involved". why? Because when co-workers start mangling things, I have to clean it up. Now, that being said, there is a way to approach this, and a way to not approach it. The way too many people do it (even if they have good intentions) is to come off as a self-appointed work quality inspector or something. Which is not what they should be doing. But if they try as much as possible to act as a mentor, and try to be as cautiously passive about it. For example, instead of hovering overing someone waiting for them to make a mistake, you wait until the problem crosses you desk, take it to them and treat it as a chance to share knowlege, this is called "mentoring" or "peer training" and is usually well received. WRONG: Bonehead, you're screwing up! Didn't you see the memo that went out about this 6 months ago? Now we stamp that three times, not four! RIGHT: Hey, I noticed that you stamp these items four times still. I know we were all trained to do that, but a few months ago the boss send a memo that changed the process, we're only supposed to stamp them three times now. I know we're all really busy and it's easy to miss a note like that, but I just wanted to make sure you knew about it. See how that works? One is confrontational and make it look like you are waiting for people to make mistakes so you can rat them out or get on their case. The other shows a concern simply for the department's work quality and the other person's career. J.Ja

ray.labrecque
ray.labrecque

Yep! The last time this happened to me it turns out that the engineering director had promised a peer that he would be the boss someday soon. Behind closed doors of course. That gave 'Mark' the license to micro-manage laterally. Two problems with that: 1) his own level of competency was less than most everyone else in the department, 2) we did not know he was tomorrows boss. So needless to say when we asked him to back off and take a walk we were signing our own pink slips! Layoff time came and went and some of us bolder folk went with it!

tuomo
tuomo

I have been very lucky in this sense but maybe it has been by design? Teams I have worked have been mature enough and/or known each other long enough so this has been much less a problem than it could have been. Yes - sometimes someone has tried it, usually persons who later on really have gone to the management route? Depending on task and people we have handled it many ways, I only remember very few times it caused any significant problems. I would say if teams allow random role play they have it coming but why not use it for advantage? . After all, people are different so it is well "wasted" time in beginning of the project to learn what (if anything) each team member knows and/or wants. Then the team, not the boss(!), selects who does what so tasks don't overlap too much. Each team needs a "speaker", so select one. May or may not be the same person who for example manages the team meetings but even two person project needs one. Now, depending on project, some know more of certain areas needed, why not choose them for those tasks? Don't let the boss always make these selections or, as the article says, don't accept hidden responsibilities, they will hurt the project and often cause huge problems. And keep in mind, the customer (internal or external) sees / cares of the result, a project, a product or maybe a company - not really how it was produced - except sometimes very good customers want to know even that! I know, some bosses hate that but good ones love it, much less for them to do and usually (always?) the results are better. The key is team work (agile - I hate that word, the "agile" process was used long time before the marketing made it a word). Unfortunately it seems that even corporations / companies which advertise "agile" don't get it today - the "silo" and pure hierarchical management models are stronger than ever and that kind of thinking reflects to even small projects - it creates the micromanagement environments! Anyway in "agile" environment it comes almost impossible to micromanage - you try it and are shown your place very fast because it causes too much problems (that's why some bosses really hate it and can never work in "agile" environments!), you know / are good on something and suddenly everyone asks your opinion / your help, a win for everyone! Just be careful, don't accept too many roles / responsibilities, some are lazy and try to use it! And maybe it is the culture, too many persons today have grown to accept that they are "managed" (heh - even development systems are "managed" instead of the developer controlling what happens, talk about "micromanagement"!) Management used to be there to get results, to help whatever they managed to produce, a support function - today IT has the same growing pains other industries have gone through and (hopefully but I doubt!) learned that increased head count and following fixed (old?, formal?, whatever) process can not adapt to every new situation.

PCComputerSupport
PCComputerSupport

Keeping an eye on a coworker is the managers job. You say you know they resent it, but you do it anyway. It sure sounds like you're the "self-appointed work quality inspector or something." that you speak of. Even if you have good intentions.

timelords
timelords

Weather its official or not if you are the one person, people come to when the boss is away you have to try to stay on top of things in a positive manner. Not so much manage but have so answers when they are need.

edjuwatson
edjuwatson

Many Micro-Managers are self-centered idiots that like to control any and everyone they can. They have low self-esteem, and push it off on their victim. Well Okay, maybe their not, but I'm sure these are words that you would love to say to that micro-manager. The thing to do is keep your cool. More than likely the manager may not even recognize that they are micro-managing. In my opinion they have not yet let go of the fact that they can delegate work and be comfortable with their workers performing that task. Reading through a few of your posts, I noticed that there were instances where co-workers took on that role of lateral micro-managers. They too are self-centered idiots that like to control any and everyone they can. They have low self-esteem, and push it off on their victim. Again, I'm sure you want to tell them the same very thing. But refrain from doing so, it could possibly be a set up! Confronting this individual may be the way to go. However, this person loves to be glorified, and loves to make it seems as if they are walking on water. They normally don't realize it, most of the time they may not have anything else to do to be productive. "go figure, right?" When you're busy, more than likely, if you are a team they are often pushing work over to you, making you a very busy person. Since they are passing the work over to you, they see an opportunity for control. Again, they may never realize this unless you approach the situation. Now the other types of lateral micro-manager can fall within another department, have not direct association with you. But get it, lots of association with your boss. They feel the need to "have their friend-on-the-job back" when they are not around. They're watching you come in, in the morning, they are watching the clock when you leave, and guess what, they even watch you over YOUR lunch break. Now, this person has no self-esteem at all, and is not getting any of his/her work completed for watching everything you do, to report back to their/your boss friend. It's pretty amazing when an establishment run this way, and it almost shows a lack of management skills, because others are able to dictate the fate of an employee. "NOT GOOD!" One thing to definitely do is COMMUNICATE. And be direct, and know what you want, when you want it, and how you want it, in your professional world! And remember, someone can do only what you allow that someone to do. So, if you have a foot, a cane, a shoe, WHATEVER, put it down and let that someone know that lateral micro-management is not the way your work day will go. Let them know that you are very well capable of doing your work. Now don't say this if you know you are not well versed and are not as capable. You really have to know YOUR STUFF, and be confident with that knowledge. I leave you with this: Communication is the key to the success of any business, establishment, or day. Learn communication skills, and along with it, learn listening skills. You will be amazed at how far it takes you. "NOW GET SOME!!!" Work done that is. ;-)

MajorGood
MajorGood

I have been able to deal with lateral micromanagement the same way when ever it rears its head. I have had quite a few individuals in my day try to micromanage me. The way to shut that down is to confront the individual and let them know in no uncertain terms that you don't report the them and that you don't appreciate them checking your work unless they are asked to do so. After a few occurances of this they will usually go find someone else to bother. This probably won't work for everyone though.

tspears
tspears

Well you know what they say... Those who can, do: those who can't, become management.

Justin James
Justin James

I cannot recall working in a team environment where I was not constantly exposed to my co-workers work. You cannot help but see what they are doing. If you think that someone in that situation should not take the time to double-check the work of others (and use it as a learning opportunity as well), that's fine. But my experience has been that if you do it in a positive way that tries to improve the team's quality, your co-workers appreciate it, and so do your managers. I have had times where by looking at the work of others, I have found mistakes that I have been making too. If you think that this is rude or whatever, well, that's you. But I've had good experiences with it, so I'll keep doing it. J.Ja

dwyckoff
dwyckoff

If you are the unofficial "go-to" person because of knowledge or seniority then that is cool. I have no problems and would probably ask you myself. But as stated above, "Bonehead, don't screw it up!" is a different story. Positve feedback is usually welcome in any situation. In my opinion, "Don't screw it up means Don't show me up". Usually the unwanted oversee'er was not asked what they think. Great point...

pzimmerman@iquest.net
pzimmerman@iquest.net

My boss is a "big picture" kind of guy who hates dealing with details. I'm extremely detail-oriented with the knowledge to back it up. As a result, although I'm not a manager, I have been given the task of reviewing all work for accuracy before it leaves the department. Yes, there are some who resent this. The "you're not my boss" attitude, while not always spoken, is pretty clear. Here's what I'd like to say to people who feel this way: "Grow up. Your work will always be scrutinized, if not by me then by others in the company or by the public in general. Would you rather make yourself, as well as your employer, look bad by sending work out with errors in it? Or would you rather be given an opportunity to correct mistakes and, perhaps, learn something in the process?" Speaking for myself, I'd rather have a mistake pointed out to me -- by ANYONE -- than suffer the embarrassment of letting it slip by.

Mark A. Lewis
Mark A. Lewis

I absolutely agree. In our shop, if we see something wrong and do nothing about it, management would be upset. Of course, one should be careful how to approach the co-worker, as you noted. The same thing goes for stepping on someone else's work or taking parts of projects away from them. Some things should not be done or said.

Devin_MacGregor
Devin_MacGregor

Exactly how I read that. One of the business units I support just had a year long project to where they had more than 100 programmers working on it. All of them were in groups with QA groups as well followed by a test production environment. Ethical managers should be wary when they appoint someone as watchdog over their fellow workers. They should be equally wary when these individuals approach them pointing fingers at others. If you have backstabbers , nitpickers, and other types of busybodies then you should expect moral problems in your workplace.

Devin_MacGregor
Devin_MacGregor

Whoa whoa whoa Mr Busybody ... If your boss has given you the authority of quality control and this is made public to everyone else then no harm no foul. But for anyone who has not that is simply unethical. WHY? Because who watches your work. If no one does then we have a breach of confidence here. It is a conflict of interest. If you are grading everyone's work then you should be doing no coding unless you turn your code in to someone else who then grades it. You slip in at the last moment like you are open to this scrutiny but are you? Let me repeat WHO WATCHES YOUR WORK??? If you are the sole one doing it and no one watches your work then we have a problem here. Your "Mr Big Picture" boss better get someone independent that verifies your work. Your boss needs to grab his "rocks" and get ethical. I am detail orientated but being so does not give you any authority no matter how you sugar coat it over your fellow co-workers. I had a co-worker who smiled at my face but behind my back was going to our no detail orientated boss. He flat out lied about me to elevate himself and what is worse is I never got to defend myself. He in shock to all of us was promoted to my supervisor. There was just me and him in our area of the account. He supervised just me. Can you see a potential conflict of interest? He as well did my review which was just a month after he was promoted which the review should had been 4 months earlier and done by our manager not him. I got sand bagged. They dropped a bomb on me and I was never able to climb out of it. Before he was promoted he was always bitching about other people and their work. Just never me to my face. Thing was is that he was not that great at his work, he made a lot of mistakes which made me question his credentials but he did not like it pointed out to him. I watched him with vendors get real rude with them if he felt they were making him look small. He would vilify them in our Monday meetings. Thing was he wanted to be in middle management as fast as possible while only learning enough so he could sound like he knew what he was talking about. I worked with him, my boss did not. I saw all his screw ups. I saw him put spin on it all the time. For two years after I had things still thrown at me behind closed doors to which I never got to defend myself on. In his case it was all about control. That same boss was also inept. He always protected this guy. My words meant nothing. Things I was told behind doors I could have sued over. In this guy's case as well it was all about control. They both put a very bad taste for management and fellow workers in my mouth to where I cannot trust anyone. After the first year when I thought I had gotten myself out of the hole he was dragging me back in. I had spent a whole year as if I was a child being scrutinized on everything while I watched his abuse of power continue. I ended up calling our ethics officer and getting an investigation going. Companies protect management like this. Because of a zero tolerance retaliation policy I was some what protected but no justice was ever done. Nothing visibly was done to them and I would never be told if anything was done. I was told that by HR who did the investigation. They never did what I asked to be done and that was move me to an account that was in the city I lived in. He ended up getting a sweet govt job up in Colorado, a year after that. My Uberboss ended up getting one as well but for our client after I was laid off. He just got the guy I started the same time with there removed from the account and wanted him fired as well. He found out my ex uberboss was having an affair with a co worker (of the uberboss) and had all these emails of it. He turned that over to city management for them to deal with it. My uberboss is the director of IT now for our client. He started to accuse my ex co worker of all kinds of things and because my ex uberboss is now the client my company removed my ex co worker from that account. Sounds like a real life soap opera. I ended up getting laid off before all that over 2 years ago but then rehired to a different account 3 weeks later where I do not have to work with such negativity and the blame game. My reviews are 4+ out of 5 with my last a 5 for productivity. I am no longer with two schmucks who pass a low review to you and tell you do not take it personally, some things never change. Micromanagement is rarely a good thing. Workplace busybodies always like to spin it around like it is a good thing and elevate their own importance. See some busybodies confuse constructive criticism with nit picking. It is one thing to find costly possible account breaking mistakes and quite another to nit pick on every minor detail. If all you do is point out other people's errors then take some people skills classes and learn humility. Learn how to be constructive in any criticism and not solely focus on the negative. I didn't choose employment to be talked down to all the time and have every minor detail pointed out to me and made into an issue in front of the world. For every wanna be manager and manager out there some CEO in India just got beat to death by his former employees. Sometimes power goes to people's heads. Micro managers perhaps it is YOU that needs to do the growing up. Think of potential lawsuits and class action lawsuits because you allowed busybodies in your workplace and we have the accusations of lost potential promotions and pay raises because a fellow co worker not management was allowed to supervise other people's work. Think of the millions lost every year in people calling in sick because they are actually sick of these busybodies.

dmanh12
dmanh12

To constantly correct others have nothing to do with embarassing boss, company etc. That's a crock and Finding errors in code is the whole idea of having several different staging environments to simulate production to push the work out and test on top of having testers (QA) to sniff out bugs. Those individuals that feel compel to micro-managed have self esteem problems and r barely competant professionally if they were secure they wouldn't worry about anyone else work

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