Every employee needs guidance and direction in order to translate the company’s vision and strategy in his•her day to day job. That’s where managers play a key role – and good ones can really make a difference in an organization. Issues arise when someone shifts from managing to micromanaging.

What is micromanagement?

Micromanagement occurs when, instead of giving general instructions and supervising only the approach and the overall objective, the manager follows and evaluates every step of the project, failing to delegate to his•her subordinates or employees the responsibility they should bear.

Micromanagers tend to obsess on every little detail of everything instead of looking at the big picture. They are overly critical and controlling and push aside the qualification and experience of others. They are petty dictators and constantly interfere with their employees.

The corporate world is littered with such micromanagers. According to American consultant Harry Chambers, author of the book My Way or the High­way : The Micro­mana­gement Survival Guide, nearly 8 out of 10 employees report that they work for micromanagers or have in the past.

Why do managers micromanage?

Managers who tend to micromanage do so for different reasons:

  • An attention to detail taken to the extreme;
  • Their incompetence;
  • Their insecurity and lack of self-esteem, or even some kind of malignant narcissism or the expression of an obsessive-compulsive disorder;
  • External pressure (organizational culture, pressure on delay and performance, instability of the job, etc.);
  • A managerial tactic in order to make an unwanted employee leave. 

This behavior is found more specifically with intermediary managers, who are being stranded between the high expectations of their boss and the pressure of their team members and tend to lose control of the situation little by little and take refuge in an oppressive behavior for others and themselves. In fact, according to the Peter principle, the more you progress within your company, the more you’ll face such managers who’ve reached their “level of incompetence”.

The damaging effects of micromanagement

The effects of micromanagement are immediate for the company:

The overall productivity decreases

Trust is the foundation of any successful relationship, whether professionally or personally. When employees feel they can’t trust their boss, they feel unsafe and spend more energy on survival than performing at their job.

The innovation is reduced

When they distrust their manager, employees can’t share new idea openly by fear of being shut down. As a consequence, the team/company tends to be stuck in their way of doing things, blocking any form of innovation.

Employees are infantilized and less autonomous

So long proactivity and independence. Micromanaged employees will increasingly lose their autonomy, asking for more and more from the micromanager, caught at his•her own game.

Employees are under stress and have a lower morale

Being micromanaged is highly demotivating for employees, all the more for the best ones. This toxic environment generates stress and a lower self-esteem, damaging the atmosphere of the whole company.

Employees have a low scope of learning

By being constantly told what they should or shouldn’t do, employees can’t learn by themselves. As a result, their development is hindered, which is prejudicial for their evolution and the future needs of the company.

The turnover rises

Micromanagement tends to kill the feeling of loyalty of the employees. Out of demotivation, the best people will look for what they need elsewhere at some point: a healthy workplace where they can make good use of their talents.

How to go from micromanagement to trust and empowerment

Here are a few “recipes” to cure yourself of your tendency to micromanage:

  • Learn to trust, while being attuned to your collaborators with regular feedback;
  • Stop focusing on the minor errors of your collaborators in order to appreciate the whole picture;
  • Learn to delegate tasks and empower your team members;
  • Instead of drowning your team with details, focus on the end result;
  • Favor initiatives and autonomy;
  • Don’t avoid the confrontation of points of view, but make your collaborators participate in the debate and use open questions;
  • Accept the lack of control and tolerate failure – you can start with letting go of less strategical topics;
  • Inject flexibility in the organization (remote working, flexible working hours, …) and set a global objective;
  • Accept to waste time in the beginning in order to save some later;
  • Think collectively;
  • Believe in the qualification and experience of the team;
  • Develop a solid line of communication with the team and foster open and honest discussions;
  • Get help from a mentor or a coach.

As Brigette Hyacinth, author of The Future of Leadership: Rise of Automation, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, said:

“In this volatile global marketplace, happy and loyal employees are your biggest competitive advantage. If you want performance at scale: Select the right people, provide them with the proper training, tools, and support, and then give them room to get the job done!”