Micromanagement has a negative reputation; you may be familiar with Steve Jobs’s quote “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do, We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do“. I deem micromanagement’s reputation can be unfair; in some cases, micromanagement is the best way to flourish under the circumstances.
Let me start by coming clean and declaring that there are cases in which I micromanage my team or the people I work with. That’s it, once said, we can continue 🙂
When reflecting back and analyzing the root cause for choosing this management style, it boils down to Trust. The urge to take control grows bigger when trust is a missing ingredient; it can relate to trust in people’s actions, a process or procedure, or trust in external parties’ moves.
Micromanagement is the Opposite of Trust
Therefore, to gain trust back, a manager feels the urge to engage, ask more questions, make decisions instead of others, and be involved in small details.
In my view, micromanagement is necessary for situations where diving into details and gaining control is essential; it may be the only way to ensure things are on track, everyone is in sync, no time or effort is wasted, and standards we aimed for are met, despite the burden on both the manager and the employees.
In this article, I’ll try to go against the current, and shed light on the positive side of micromanagement and why it can be beneficial.
The Positive Aspects of Micromanagement
When a manager feels he or she has to micromanage it means details do not flow upward as expected. There are some blind spots that the manager wants to fill, and there lies an opportunity. Of course, you can’t update your manager with every single detail; however, providing the essence will bridge the knowledge gaps and pacify the need for information. Such a move will improve upstream communication and open a channel.
So instead of perceiving micromanagement as a burden, turn over the situation and use it as a platform to enhance communication with your bosses.
Staying in Focus
A herd needs a shepherd that directs and leads toward a destination. In times of uncertainty or load, it’s easy to lose focus. Micromanagement can be a solution to keep everyone in focus and make sure negligible issues are kept in the correct proportion and do not get too much attention.
When your manager requests more details, it is an opportunity to check your actions and refine your plans while keeping the main goal in mind. You do not let the tail wag the dog. With that, anything you prepare is upgraded. Whether it’s a design document, product description, work plan, or presentation, it is all judged under the lens of heading to the goal. The shepherd makes sure no effort is wasted.
In times of crisis, micromanagement is an effective tool to gain control. Any move can be crucial and can change the delicate balance; therefore, revealing all the essential details and deciding on how to act as one unit is fundamentally important.
As a project manager, I remember an escalation that went out of control; the customer was unpleased and the project was heading to a termination. Our CEO summoned an urgent meeting to get information and decide the next steps. From then onwards, any tiny detail was scrutinized internally before it was conveyed to the customer. Eventually, this micromanagement act kept us on track.
God is in the Details
What makes a good outcome a perfect one is the fine details. To achieve flawless execution, everyone has to act and maneuver at the right time, like an orchestra. The composer has all the music in his head, he just has to ensure it’s being executed in harmony.
There are cases the only way to achieve this harmonious flow is by managing every single detail. Like a conductor, the manager controls the scene and coordinates the act. It may be annoying, but sometimes it’s the only way to achieve perfection.
I recall a demo to an important customer. I knew exactly what I wanted to convey, to the last detail. When things didn’t meet my expectations during the preperations, I didn’t compromise the standards and chose to micromanage. Due to the lack of time, that was my only way to assure things were done properly.
A common phrase regarding newcomers is “let them swim on their own”; when you don’t have much time to coach new team members, you assign them tasks, and hope they will learn to swim. But this phrase is not easily done for a micromanager. How can you trust them to make the right decisions?
On the other side of the equation lies the new team member. There are many details to comprehend, and distinguishing between the important and the minor issues is not trivial. With that, an employee can benefit from micromanagement when a close supervision is required. There is a caveat – when the learning phase is over, the manager has to let go and leave the employee swim by his own; otherwise, the micromanagement becomes negative.
Whenever I recruit a new member to my team, I try to be more in control. I want to clear the fog and alleviate the pain of dealing with so many unfamiliar details; I mention this close management is part of the onboarding process, and it is not my agenda.
When I joined my first job, my manager gave me some coding tasks in the first week. Once finished, he was pleased but didn’t ask how it was or show any particular interest, and then another task followed. I was thirsty for more interest and feedback to know what should be improved. Since then, I carry this lack of attention whenever a new member joins the team.
When micromanaging, the manager shows he or she cares and demonstrates how things should be done; it can be a platform for sincere feedback. Discussing the details can improve your skills and knowledge, and it wouldn’t be done unless your manager was micromanaging and working with you down to the details.
The tendency to dive into details and try to be in control stems from a lack of Trust. It can be trusting others that the job is done exactly as wished but also and internal trust to let go and allow others to interpret tasks differently.
In general, people don’t like to be micromanaged or supervised, but there are cases in which this management style is the only way to cross a river. Nevertheless, if you are a manager who finds himself micromanaging often, then you should ask yourself why; is it you? deos it relate to your team?
On the other side of the equation, if you find your boss micromanage you, ask yourself why. It can be the situation, your actions, or your boss’s nature. Try thinking about your supervisor’s needs that led to choosing this management style. Be empathic and open this issue with your manager. Once finding the answer, it can change your relationship for the better.