Micro-management is rarely useful or helpful

Are cockies a little like micro-managers? Too prevalent, annoying and without any useful or obvious purpose.

Micro-management is a problem

“Micro managed to the point of being numb”. So said once such victim.

What are the consequences of being micro-managed?

Micro-manager.   On-going stress and anxiety, hyper-vigilance, fatigue, relationship difficulties, conflict, lack of loyalty from staff, loss of productivity, less profitability or efficiency, increased absenteeism (or presenteeism) of staff, increased staff turnover and stress for those who stay, poor team morale, and so much more!

Staff or delegates.   Feel devalued, under-utilised, disempowered, lose motivation, passion, resilience and confidence, increased anxiety and stressed, possible depression (feeling trapped is alternative employment prospects are limited), angry, less pride in their work and less loyalty, and more.

Customers.   Compromised service, unit costs of service delivery are higher, less flexibility in the provision of customer service, more complaints and less good will. Will go elsewhere if they have choice. And more.

Wider community.   Compromised reputation. Dismissive, lack of respect.

Organisation.   Heightened risk of long-term sustainability, success and profitability. If a private enterprise, likely to go bust. If public service, likely to be restructured or outsourced.

So why does it occur?

Organisational Culture

Micro-management may reflect the culture of an organisation. Some organisations may require or even dictate such a style of management from its respective senior and middle management staff. Leaders in such organisations may value this management style, either because they believe it achieves success and/or profitability, or for some, it allows a command and control culture to be maintained. Failure to comply may see some subordinate managers neutered, bullied or ‘managed’ out of an organisation.

Compromised Organisational Health

The presence of micro-management may also reflect the organisational health of an organisation. Sometimes an organisation may lack management expertise in its ranks. Symptomatic of such deficit (ironically) may result in these organisations caring less (an opposite extreme) about how its various managers conduct their operational interactions with their staff.

Individual Personalities

Micro-management also reflects the personality of individual managers employed within any given organisation. Typically, such people are anxious or stressed (even if well concealed) and very outcome focused. They struggle to trust other people and are often big on self-promotion and protection of their ego. Fundamentally, while they would perceive otherwise, they are a liability in an effective organisation, as they stymie, frustrate and prevent their best staff reaching their potential and delivering their best results.  Instead they encourage learned helplessness, as people become disempowered, lose confidence and motivation, and experience disrespect.

Such people typically lack self-awareness, may place their own prospects ahead of the well-being of their staff, or may simply lack the insights and education to know alternative and more effective ways to manage.

Attention to detail does not require micro-management

Many micro-managers may perceive their efforts as most desirable, especially in high risk industries or roles. Effectively, attention to detail in such organisations is vital. However, one person demanding that every detail is scrutinised does not mean that the quality outcomes are necessarily optimised. Indeed, the emotional burden placed on such teams may often achieve the opposite.

Instead, attention to detail is achieved via good process, including many peer reviews, rigorous testing, checklists, team-work, trust and good communications between relevant stakeholders. A manager responsible for such processes needs to ensure each ‘link in the chain’ is working optimally. Demanding it to be so via micro-management only reflects the anxiety of said manager, not the efficiency of the system.  

Optimal alternative to micro-management

Transformational leadership

“Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders”.   (Tom Peters)

Transformational management is the antithesis of micro-management. People who act in this manner are more confident, less egocentric, and usually wise to methods more likely to achieve the most positive of outcomes, for all the stakeholders noted above.

Harvard University, describing the ‘paradox of leadership’, refer to ‘the magic of leadership’ best epitomised Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu:

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, we did it ourselves.”

In a similar vein (source unknown), somebody once said that ‘pain not transformed is transferred’. Why would we tolerate the transference of others’ anxiety and short-comings, when a better alternative exists?

Micro-management is unhelpful to all concerned. It has no useful place in organisations who strive for excellence and inclusive outcomes.

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