By Julie Benezet:
We’ve all met this person. It might even be you. They blow into the room, point in your direction and tell you exactly how to do something down to the tiniest detail: the choice of font, the photos to be inserted, or the attendee list for a meeting. The tone of voice is that of a bark or, worse, oily manipulation. There is no room for discussion of alternatives to these activities or whether any of them will make a difference to the bigger goal.
Welcome to the world of the micromanager.
In my speaking career, I have noticed that even saying the word, “micromanagement,” causes a chuckle of recognition from the audience. “If you don’t know what micromanagement is, you’ve never worked,” I like to say. I have yet to hear anyone disagree.
What is micromanagement?
Micromanagers fear of loss of control. Not knowing how things will turn out scares them. Instead of accepting the winding path toward a project goal, the micromanager tries to steer every detail, testing each piece to make sure it’s safe to move forward. It gives them an illusion that they are on top of things and making progress.
What really gets tested is the nerves of the people on the receiving end of micromanagement. When everything from the arrangement of the photos to the choice of font is curated by a micromanager, the most common result is disempowerment, apathy and a mediocre product. One person, in this case the micromanager, cannot own every good idea. The beauty of a team is that different people bring different ideas, many of which might improve the outcome.
Most of us micromanage from time to time. Stressful situations - clients demanding better service, a team missing an important deadline, or a sudden plunge in sales - can cause major anxiety. The natural response is to try to fix the issue and fix it fast to get rid of the stress. However, quick fixes more often than not only compound the problem.
What’s wrong with micromanagement?
What’s wrong with micromanagement is that while you adjust small things at the periphery, you will only succeed in diverting everyone’s energy from achieving your ultimate goal. It takes time and broad investigation to figure out how to win over your project’s target population. Focusing your attention on details rather than the larger picture will not get you there.
Occasionally, it is appropriate to step in and micromanage. If you catch yourself doing so, however, use it as a signal that something is not right. The person you assigned to a task might be underperforming because they are not qualified to do the job, or you have not adequately trained them. You also might need to step in to save your group from an urgent situation that calls for the expertise gleaned from your many years of experience.
Moving from micromanagement to management
Overcoming the urge to micromanage requires widening the lens to look at the broader picture. There are many things in the wider view that at first glance might look uncontrollable and unnerving. However, directing your time and energy toward understanding them will help move you past focusing on details and driving your team crazy.
Here are six steps to move you from micromanagement to management.
1. Focus on the endgame. To head micromanagement off at the pass, start by answering three questions for any size project you oversee:
· Who is your target customer?
· What do they want that you can offer?
· How will you do it in a way that will satisfy them?
Use your answers as guiding objectives. Then choose a team that has the right skills to help you to deliver on them.
2. Launch the project. Assemble your team in an official launch meeting. Explain the project objectives. Then create an action plan with them that outlines the major tasks and defines who leads the delivery of each, who makes decisions, and due dates. Make a pact with your team that you will support their work and to let you know if at any point they are not getting what they need from you. If you are feeling brave, give them permission to tell you when they are getting something they don’t need, i.e., micromanagement.
3. Recognize when you are triggered. Despite all your advance preparation, when things become stressful, micromanagement will tempt you. Learn to recognize when something sets off your need to control. You might feel a stab of anxiety, anger, annoyance, or icy calm as you decide to take charge of a situation that arouses your fear. That is your signal to change course.
4. Stop the speeding train of anxiety. When you are triggered, you might find yourself wanting to tear down the hall shouting out orders or inserting yourself into the middle of someone else’s work. If that happens, stop! You are heading in the wrong direction. It’s time to pause and reflect. Take a deep breath, go for a walk. or simply sit still. The key is to start the process of detaching from your emotional reaction.
5. Redirect your energy to the bigger picture. As you slow down your anxiety, remind yourself of your project objectives. Take time to peel away the layers of anxiety to find its root cause. Be gut honest with yourself. Was a team member doing something that would prevent delivering on the project objectives or were they merely doing their task in a way that was different from how you would do it (and possibly better, which might hurt your pride)? The distinction is critical. You want creative thinking and team engagement. Undercutting their work when it is advancing rather than interfering with the project progress will discourage them. If you get stuck, ask a trusted colleague or advisor to act as a sounding board.
6. Do some personal homework on why you micromanage. People micromanage for many reasons. It might be purely a habit of doing things yourself as a sole proprietor or working in an individual contributor environment. It also might stem from issues arising from family of origin experiences. Whatever is true for you, the better you understand your underlying motivators, the more successful you will be in overcoming the urge to control where it is not the best option.
From micromanagement to management
Letting go of micromanagement takes practice, a lot of it. However, the more you try, the easier it will become, especially as you experience the pleasure of working with a motivated and engaged team.