The evidence that micromanagement is counterproductive is plentiful. However, it’s only one possible style of management among many, and some aspects of micromanagement may have a place in a well-rounded manager’s toolkit. In today’s environment, when demand for skilled employees is higher than ever, managers need to find new ways to empower team members without over-managing them. 

What Is Micromanagement?

Micro, of course, means small. Micromanagement refers to a management style where employees are subject to extreme scrutiny and close supervision. Micromanagers are likely to focus on the trivial, hound their direct reports, prioritize insignificant details, and refuse to delegate. They may use technologies like cameras or keyloggers to observe employees at all times, or require manager approval of all decisions, no matter how small. 

Micromanagers fail to nurture talent, blocking staff from developing creativity and independence in their work. Focus on details prevents these managers from attending to the big picture; they lose sight of the company’s long-term goals and how to achieve them. The end result is stress for both workers and managers, turnover, unmet team goals, and reduced company profitability.

Why Do Managers Do It?

Micromanagers often lack the insight and self-awareness to understand what they are doing and why. However, the most common reasons for these behaviors are:

  • Poor leadership skills. At times, people are promoted into management roles without an adequate understanding of their new leadership role. Perhaps they were promoted from within the team they now manage, where they were successful and competent. Now, in a different sphere where they feel less competent, they keep trying to do the old job themselves. This can result in second-guessing employee decisions, over-scrutinizing processes rather than results, and inserting themselves into workflows. 
  • Personal insecurity. Alternatively, some managers are insecure and unable to adapt, wanting to be seen as an expert, but unfamiliar with the work of the team, or with the technology being used. So they focus on details they understand and can control. Creating arbitrary lists and metrics, making new rules and guidelines, and refusing to delegate can help these managers feel more relevant. 
  • The desire for authority. Surveys show that a significant number of people who seek management roles desire power. Implementing petty rules and refusing to delegate authority feeds that desire. Or they may report to a micro-manager above them, so feel they need to control all their outputs to satisfy that higher-up. In such cases, the company culture itself fosters micromanagement. 

Is Micromanagement Always a Bad Thing?

As an unconscious, automatic, and permanent management style, micromanagement works against the long-term success of the manager, the worker, the team, and the company. 

In certain circumstances, though, some aspects of micromanagement are helpful and necessary. Certain high-risk situations and sectors mandate very close oversight of workers and processes. Also, particular tasks such as training new employees or bringing a poorly performing team up to par may cause a manager to choose an autocratic style, such as making all decisions and heavily overseeing every phase of the work.

A competent manager, though, will use these tools selectively and only when called for. She or he will use appropriate methods that both bring out the best in the team and advance the goals of the organization. This is a balancing act requiring sensitivity to individuals and situations, and a conscious ability to switch styles as needed.

Is Micromanagement Ending? 

The term micromanagement was coined in 1975, but awareness of the problem has been around much longer. Because the behavior is driven by common emotions and situations, micromanagement will probably always be present to some extent. However, managers who don’t know any other way to do their job won’t be successful, and companies who aim to be successful will be aware of such managers and re-train or remove them. 

Work culture in much of the world is undergoing sharp changes. Even before Covid, older workers were retiring, and Millennials and Gen Z workers were disinclined to trust employers or see themselves working for one company for life, because they grew up amid corporate actions such as mass lay-offs, outsourcing, moving off-shore, and bankruptcies. 

Since the pandemic, these workers are even less inclined to accept being micromanaged. They may participate in hustle culture, often supporting themselves via multiple income streams, and are unwilling to put off the enjoyments of life for the sake of a job. In many sectors of the economy, the 9 to 5 work scenario is disappearing, as is work tied to a specific location. All these tendencies lend themselves to a more mobile and independent workforce.

Worker performance during Covid demonstrated the benefits of autonomy to employees, and they’re unwilling to give that up. Also, developments in technology such as the use of reporting dashboards can allow managers to keep track of team progress without requiring constant reports from workers.

Successful Managers 

Managers who succeed in this new climate will be tolerant of occasional errors, using them as training opportunities. They will be clear communicators and able delegators. They will have a solid understanding of the big picture, their company’s goals, and of the role their team plays in achieving those goals. And they will enable the employees who report to them to develop initiative, confidence, and competence. All of these behaviors, indicative of capable management, are outside the purview of micromanagers. 

In today’s world, recruiting top talent often means having the best culture, and creating an environment where employees can reach their full potential. For more information about how to improve culture, foster leadership skills, and recruit the best talent, contact grapefrute today.