Leadership

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.

24 comments
Sysadmin/Babysitter
Sysadmin/Babysitter

2+ days of work lost by 2 people equals a weeks lost work to hire a person "barely above minimum wage". This effort was doomed from the beginning. Why didn't they hire the first "troll" sent by HR?

fjkdlsafjkl
fjkdlsafjkl

Sorry to say that I have been down this road a few times in my career, and just when I thought I worked in a company where I wouldn't have to deal with it AGAIN...well. In each case, it has always been the same. These people were great performers at the company prior to becoming a manager. They were technically savvy, but used to managing projects rather than people. And the "control issues" came out of the woodwork once they got that promotion! I don't know why organizations don't understand that your star performer isn't necessarily going to be an effective manager. Managing projects is day and night different than managing people - especially highly talented and experienced technical people! In my present case, the organization had to offer my former colleague the position, and to everyone's surprise - and some dismay - he took it. He is a top-notch performer, but has horrible people skills, and always bashed management. I went to his boss (the man who hire me) with concerns and he asked me to just "give it 3 months" and that other personnel had raised similar issues. Well, it's been 3 weeks and I am more ready to wring my boss's neck now than before. He just can't help his condescending attitude - it's always been part of who he is - but now that he's the manager it has to stop and HIS boss knows it. My condolensces to all who are in a similar situation.

Ivy Clark
Ivy Clark

Oh dear... must be 3 very long tedious weeks. I'm an anxious person by nature, so I'm thankful for the lessons on what not to do from my ex-boss and refraining from hovering over my engineers and developers, and bugging them for updates constantly. Hang in there... use it as an opportunity to learn what not to do. You'll be given a chance to lead one day, and these lessons will come in handy. =D

ibsteve2u
ibsteve2u

...is a sign of too many managers. Somebody needs to cut the bloat.

gary
gary

I have yet to see a large company to hire anyone differently. Once, I went for a job at Compaq. Ten interviews, including one with some non-English speaking German HR person who had no idea why I was there. "Just some the candidate to everyone who might criticize a hiring decision." A pretty bad demonstration of management from a leading technology company. Excellent demonstration of basic CYA.

dbreeden
dbreeden

I heard this about the studios. It has to go by everyone because anyone can say "no". If it doesn't go by somebody, they soon lose their "no". It is a major loss of power. Don't ja just love politics. Personally though, I just think of it as lameness and bad management. Enjoy M

IT cowgirl
IT cowgirl

Virtually every corporation interviews in this manner. It is insane! CYA is the only answer I agree with.

professordnm
professordnm

You've put your finger on the reason I chose to divest myself of working for a Fortune 100 pharmaceutical company and going into business for myself over 20 years ago. I could no longer abide people who, if left to their wits and cunning, could not provide for their own sustenance. But, let me ask, who did eventually end up getting the job? Or, did upper management come to the conclusion that your associate really didn't need clerical help? Or... was the CEO's idiot nephew awarded the position?

drew.trusz
drew.trusz

The swollen ego control freaks who are the problem won't be reading your advice much less following it. Kiss-ups don't manage well and good managers don't kiss-up well.

zaferus
zaferus

I went from a job where my manager was extremely supportive and hands off to a position with another company where the manager is extremely "hands on" wanting me to clear any decision before engaging. At first it was extremely stressful in part because it was enormously time consuming having to explain technical concepts to a semi-technical manager so he can make every decision. It also felt like a slight to my technical skills and professional attitude being unable to progress any assigned tasks or projects even a small step without permission and at least one meeting to "discuss". But after a few months I came to start to think of my position as "just a job" and now it hardly phases me. I'm probably 10% as effective as I was, but changing my own attitude has helped me keep my sanity within this type of environment.

jeffusa
jeffusa

I agree with you that changing your mindset is the key thing to surviving in a workplace with micromanagement. I used to feel slighted to that micromanagement was an insult to my skills. Now I think of myself as a free agent going to the highest bidder as long as I can stand them. Maybe I am 10% effective as you pointed out but then again does it matter? If I help their company make an extra million this year will I see any of it? Probably not. My point exactly.

AlexChampness
AlexChampness

I went for a job interview for a company that was just branching out in UK and Europe and initialy talked to one of the managers who would have been my boss. Over the next few weeks I had a further 6 interviews which was exausting quite frankly. The job was for an IT manager and so I had some interviews from the USA (I am in UK). I was also tested on my knowledge and experience with a test over the phone, I was told by the first manager I saw that they really liked me and all was going well. The final interview was from HR in the states, by this time my nerves were a little frayed and I had not had a lot of sleep I was not quite as with it as usual. After the interview I went back again to the first person who interviewed me who sad that "HR was not convinced" Of what, I will never know. And that was that all of the other interviewers aparently liked me and it was on this one phone conversation that they decided that I was not for them. Madness, it seems like there was no one person willing to take on the responsibility for taking someone on. I have now got a better job elsewhere and it only took 2 interviews! I guess I am better off without them.

dbreeden
dbreeden

That's nothing, but then my boss is truely over the edge. I'm in a small company and I run the IT shop, very successfully. THe boss figured out that I am smart. EGO THREAT!!! Now he never tells me that something is broken. He tells me what to do to fix it. Ahhhh. There is no point in telling this story. The situation is so disfunctional it's not about micromanagement. That is just one small symptom. It's more about anger management and management by anger. I suspect he thinks he is Svengali. I'm down the road in any case. Good luck all.

stan
stan

He was always trying to tell me how to do my job, and one day decided to show me how things should be done. There was a utility program that had to be modified to work after some other things were upgraded. He worked all day on it. Then, about 4:30 in the afternoon, gave up and ordered me to fix it. It was in a language that I wasn't very familiar with, so I asked when he needed it done, and he said "as soon as possible" and headed back to his desk. It took almost 30 seconds to see the problem and fix it. If I had walked fast I would have reached his desk before he did. Of course he didn't believe it was fixed, and had to verify it. That guy didn't like people smarter than he was (must have seen them as some kind of threat), so I knew my days there were numbered.

CodeBubba
CodeBubba

Can anyone here imagine what a company would be like if everybody just came and got focused on doing their jobs instead of the politics and ego trip? Naah ... won't ever happen! -CB ;)

shyam
shyam

Such situations can be avoided if the HR department is bright enough and can be trusted.

Tigerbright
Tigerbright

As I work for the US Government this sounds just like our process for hiring. Multiple layers of management; all involved in the most minor of decisions; passing the decisions up the chain because their boss needs to (or mistakenly wants to) justify their own job. And taxpayers (myself included) wonder why it takes the Government so long to make critical decisions ? New graduates out of college don't want to enter the Federal service because they never get an interview in their lifetime with the result being a 'grayer and grayer' government ? This article "speaks" to me, as it seems to me that I live it every day.

Ivy Clark
Ivy Clark

I used to report to a micromanager as well. She was a perfectionist who wanted to know every detail - only problem is, she couldn't remember half the things I told her. So, she made up for that by calling me or visiting me at my desk 3-4 times daily, for a progress update on all my tasks and projects. She'd then jot down my points on a sticky note, which she'll later misplace, so I'd have to repeat it all again. I eventually took to emailing her once in the morning to share my daily plan with her, and then once before I left to share what has been accomplished. But yea, it was a waste of time, as the time I spent repeating my updates, and sending her the mails, would have been better spent executing my projects and completing my tasks. I don't work with her anymore. I'm glad. Now, I have the opportunity to work with a team, I constantly remind myself not to micromanage. Yes, asking myself if there is a NEED for me to be involved, and whether I can bring any value apart from giving moral support definitely helps.

szazs
szazs

It has been my experience that people learn how NOT to micromanage by having worked for a micromanager. One can read, discuss, or study it to death, but having to live through it seems to be the most effective way I know to keep from actually being a micromanager. You develop a short fuse for it in others as well as yourself, as an added bonus, and tend to cut it back wherever it appears, if possible, like ragweed or poison ivy. Most micromanagers don't know the difference between "doing the job right" and "driving everyone crazy"...Tell me what you want done, not how to do it.

jim.allen1
jim.allen1

I worked for a man who practiced 'micro management' without knowing it - end result I had a nervous breakdown walked out of the job received an apology for the abuse and compensation - the organisation spent the next 18 months trying to sort out their shortfall in technical ability and lost an employee which the micromanager has sinced stated was the hardest worker in his team! so All you people managing with micro egos remember not all people need that sort of management, and if you are not carefull your management tactics will result in bullying employees already streched to the limit by real work issues and real problems which will always be there for the position in question - So BACK OFF and let us techies breath ... we're quite good at out jobs - if you will only let us get on with them!!!!

Wayne M.
Wayne M.

I must say I have warning bells going off in my head when reading this description. It appears that a manager decided to instigate his own personal hiring process and got his hand slapped. In most of the organizations I have worked for, even senior management would not decide and persue hiring on its own. It certainly appears as if the managers in question did not bother to include high-level management in their plans nor schedules. For the future, I would recommend determining if a hiring process is already in place and, if so, ensure that everyone follows it. If not, it would be well worthwhile creating one to avoid situations such as this in the future.

Ramon Padilla Jr.
Ramon Padilla Jr.

Unfortunately my friend WAS following a process that was continually morphing due to the need for more people's desires to insert themselves into the process. No foul on the manager's part, they followed a very thorough and standard process that was hijacked.

xoctor
xoctor

This kind of middle-management-meddling is rife in every organisation I have ever been involved with. I'd love to learn some new techniques for short-circuiting it without creating enemies and bruising egos.