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What is micromanagement? (and how to recognise and deal with it)

What is micromanagement? (and how to recognise and deal with it)

As a startup or small business, recognising and dealing with micromanagement can be really difficult.

Without the expertise of an experienced HR team, you might be unsure of what to look out for or worry about making a situation worse if you intervene. 

As Charlie's Senior & People Talent Partner, I advocate for inclusion and diversity across all operational aspects of our company. In this blog, I’ll break down micromanagement and advise how best to deal with it if it ever arises at your company. 

What is micromanagement?

You’ve likely heard of the term ‘micromanagement’, but unless you’ve experienced it first-hand you probably won’t be able to define it. So before we learn how to recognise and deal with it, let’s make sure we understand exactly what micromanagement is.

Micromanagement meaning: a negative management style characterised by excessive supervision and control.

A micromanager so closely observes and controls the work and processes of their team that they fail to delegate tasks and decision-making. Choosing instead to focus obsessively on detail and dish out criticism, their behaviour can cause employees to lose confidence in their own abilities.

The opposite of a micromanager would be a ‘macromanager’ — someone who focuses on the big picture and understands that every employee must be given some level of autonomy in order to do their job (and trusts them to do it). 

What are the signs of a micromanager? (i.e. How to recognise micromanagement)

So how do you recognise micromanagement? Well, micromanagers tend to have certain traits in common. They: 

  • Are overly concerned with detail - micromanagers get lost in the minutia 
  • Need to approve everything -  nothing gets past without their sign off
  • Demand constant updates - line reports spend more time justifying their actions than completing their tasks
  • Cannot or will not delegate - they don’t trust anyone else to make decisions
  • Must be CC’d in - maintaining control means needing to know everything that’s going on
  • Over-complicate instructions - even for the most basic tasks, leaving their team confused and unsure of what to do
  • Believe no one else is as capable as them - this one speaks for itself!

Why is micromanaging toxic?

While micromanagement can initially produce results, overall no good comes from it.

Micromanagement is toxic because of the possible consequences for your employees and your business as a whole. This is because it:

  1. Lowers morale: the excessive supervision and lack of trust makes employees feel undervalued and disempowered. 
  2. Stifles innovation: micromanagement inhibits people, so they stop proposing new ideas or taking any creative risks.
  3. Decreases productivity: micromanaged employees have to spend more time seeking approval and asking for clarification on tasks, and they’re likely to become increasingly demotivated.
  4. Limits growth: restricting autonomy and decision-making will always be a barrier to business success.
  5. Creates a negative culture: micromanagement fosters a work environment that’s characterised by distrust, stress, and resentment.
  6. Increases turnover: demoralised and dissatisfied employees are not going to stay with you for long. Left unchecked, micromanagement will ensure you lose good people. 

What is an example of micromanagement? 

Micromanagement can take different forms depending on the company and the roles within it, but it always involves overly close scrutiny of an employee’s work by their manager.

I spoke with someone who was micromanaged in their marketing role at a small business and this is what she said:

“Being micromanaged really knocked my confidence. 

Initially, I was confused about what was happening. I assumed my manager’s behaviour was because I was on probation, but it actually got worse after I’d passed. 

She’d go through my work with a fine tooth comb, pick it apart, and criticise everything I did. She seemed to have no faith in my experience or knowledge, and I wasn't able to do anything without her sign off — and even then it felt like it was her work, not mine. I started to dread meetings and conversations with her, and became increasingly frustrated. 

I did as much as I could to try and make the relationship work, but in the end had to raise it with our team lead. He couldn't (or didn’t want to) see what was happening and dismissed it as a ‘personality clash’, which was even more demoralising. 

After 18 months, I handed in my notice. I really enjoyed working with the other members of our team, but I felt my role there had become completely untenable.”

So what should you do if someone comes to you with a micromanagement complaint?

How to deal with micromanagement in the workplace 

Dealing with micromanagement is always going to involve some form of action, and the sooner you act the more likely you are to resolve it

But knowing how to act can be the challenge, especially if you’re a startup or small business, so here are some simple steps you can take:

Listen to your team — if someone comes to you with a report of micromanagement, be sure to give them space and time, and take them seriously. It’s likely they’ve gone through a lot of confusion and anxiety before plucking up the courage to talk to you, and their confidence will be at a really low ebb.

Put your own impressions aside — how a manager comes across to you as their superior might be very different to how they present to their team.

Start the dialogue — don’t hope that a case of micromanagement will just sort itself out, or assume it’s a case of clashing personalities. Micromanagement is toxic and can affect entire teams and your overall workplace culture if left unchecked. It needs to be dealt with swiftly and properly.

Remember the micromanager — they’re probably struggling too. Micromanagers frequently lack confidence in their role as line managers, and this insecurity or lack of experience manifests itself as micromanagement. Offer training and additional support to help them develop better people management skills, or look at the possibility of moving them away from line management responsibilities altogether.

Create a culture free of micromanagement — as the founder or CEO, the culture of your workplace starts with you, so you need to actively be invested in it. 

How to create a workplace culture free of micromanagement

Creating a workplace culture free of micromanagement is not about doing one specific thing, but doing many things simultaneously that nurture a positive culture where all of your employees feel supported.

At Charlie, for example, we have a flexible working culture to encourage positive working habits and discourage negative ones like micromanagement

Working flexibly means that we expect our people to take ownership of their work and organise their days as they see fit. This applies to everyone who works at Charlie, not just our managers or those in leadership roles. So there is no room for micromanagement, as it would stand out like a sore thumb and be called out. 

We trust everyone to do their jobs at Charlie, and believe that good people management is characterised by trust, support and advocacy. We want to build people up, not break them down. 

Our transparent four step hiring process is the first rung on our ladder of flexible working, as we’re confident that we’ve employed the right people for the job. We also encourage our managers to have regular weekly sessions with their team, and hold daily ‘standups’ to share what everyone is working on. 

A positive working culture is something we’re always striving for, and everyone who works at Charlie takes an active role in it

As a fellow small business, we understand where you’re coming from. If you need help with your HR, then we’re here for you. 

For better people management, try Charlie. 

Click here to start a free trial and start performance management today

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