Victimized by micromanagement

A close friend of mine told me about a recent experience she had in the workplace, and I thought it was worth sharing. My friend, who is a senior manager in her organization, needed a new admin assistant. She decided—with her manager’s approval—that she would pursue the temp-to-hire process, as the position paid a minimal wage.

She began the process and was pleasantly surprised to find a fairly large pool of candidates that looked like they had pretty decent skills for the wage she was able to pay.  Narrowing down the pool to 10 candidates, she and her supervisor (who new hire would also support) began the interview process.

Blocking out three full days, they began a very thorough process. They had a consistent set of questions they asked each candidate and after each interview, they compared notes. At the end of the three days, they had narrowed the pool to four people and one candidate stood out amongst the rest.

Here is where the fun begins. To make a long story short, the candidate was required to return two additional times to meet with two more layers of management for a total of about 10 minutes each so they could get a “feel” for the candidate. The two extra meetings could not happen within the same week because of “scheduling” problems, and when it was all said and done—you guessed it—the candidate had a better job offer and moved on.

Let’s step back with a critical eye here for a moment and examine what happened. Two senior managers took the time out of their schedules to perform thorough interviews for a position that would directly support them. They narrowed the pool down and chose their top candidate. They then had to wait while more senior management (who would have little to no contact with this person) drew out the processes to the point that the candidate was lost. Just to add more information, the original two managers who conducted the interviews had a combined management history of over 30 years. These were not rookies.

So what exactly happened here?

The candidate probably thought the organization was insane (remember, this was a temp-to-hire for a clerical position that was barely above minimum wage).

The two managers lost their best candidate and also had their integrity/management ability questioned by the candidate for having to get upper management approval. What did the senior managers think they lacked that made their own judgment so vital? Especially for a CLERICAL position!

Perhaps they are Jedi and can sense the dark side in people? Perhaps they can do a Vulcan Mind Meld and see into their past? Perhaps they are omniscient and can see into the future and therefore were seeing the candidate’s performance evals six months down the road? Perhaps they were trying to mitigate risk?

Ah, you say, that’s it! They were judging “fit” for the organization. Come now – isn’t that what probationary periods and temp-to-hire are for? And who better to judge "fit" than the people who will be responsible for the performance evaluations?

Obviously my friend wasn’t happy. Below are three important steps to consider the next time you consider getting involved in a process that is the direct responsibility of your subordinates:

1. Although there are a great many temptations out there that may make you want to meddle in your employees' work, you need to ask yourself:
(A) Why do I want to get involved?
(B) Is my involvement going to create any value?
(C) Do I or don’t I trust my subordinate to make the right decision and if I don’t – why not?
(D) Is the process I am about to meddle in really important enough to justify my time? (In this example, I could understand the multiple interviews with ever increasing involvement from senior management if the position were going to be a high-ranking official in the organization or a position of high risk or sensitivity. But that wasn’t the case.)

2. If you DO choose to involve yourself, make your involvement worthwhile. Use it to teach or to add something to the process that no one else can bring. If you are doing it only to supervise a green employee, who is going through a process for the first few times—let them know. But for heavens sake, don’t create a needless procedural step because you have control issues or a big ego.

3. If you feel the need to insert yourself into the process, try to do so in such a way that doesn’t penalize your subordinate or add considerable delay to the process. In the above example, rather than bringing the candidate in three separate times, ask interviewing managers to justify their candidate rankings in writing, and then review that product as well as the candidates' resumes. Adding your input in this way is far better than trying to schedule a face-to-face for 10 minutes.

In summary, there can be times when micromanagement is not only suitable, but warranted. However, these times are probably less frequent than you think. If you find yourself having to micromanage on a regular basis, either you need to re-evaluate your staff because you can’t trust them to do the job, or you need to do a self-examination to sort out your control issues. In either case, follow the three steps above before inserting yourself into a situation. Your subordinates will appreciate it, and you will have more time to do your own job.

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