APA Center for Organizational Excellence: Good Company

Resources for Employers

Good Company Blog

Dr. Matt Grawitch: November 2011 Archives


Micromanaging employees can be wrought with challenges. Of course, there are obvious issues, like increased stress on the micromanaged employee and potentially poorer results. In addition, exerting one’s limited resources for the purposes of actually engaging in micromanaging employees takes time, energy, and attention away from other workplace endeavors. After all, if you are micromanaging someone, you can’t be doing something else at the same time, right?

So that got me thinking: Why do some of us default to micromanaging employees? I reviewed a host of resources, trying to identify some common issues that cause supervisors to micromanage their subordinates. It didn’t take long to identify a couple of big, interrelated issues that surface over and over again:

  1. Probably the biggest issue concerns lack of trust in subordinates. We don’t like to take our finger off the control button when we don’t have faith in those to whom we are relinquishing control. To borrow from Situational Leadership, this is often a supervisor’s perception that employees either lack the competence or the commitment necessary to do something the right way. If this is the case, mentoring or coaching can be a useful way to help eliminate this barrier.
  2. However, many supervisors lack expertise in mentoring and coaching employees. An effective mentoring or coaching process could help transition supervisors and employees from a micromanaging style to a more autonomous style. But, therein lies the rub: If you have no process in place for mentoring or coaching (or you don’t know how to do it well), that systematic development may not be occurring.

Of course, managers are recognized and rewarded based on the ability of their employees to produce results. This can lead supervisors to try and ensure results are achieved by taking on too much involvement in subordinates’ day-to-day work activities. The logic seems sound: “If I stay highly involved, employees will do things exactly the right way,” which is code for “exactly the way I would approach things.”

The problem with this logic is that trying to foist one’s own work style or approach to problems on everyone else can actually have the exact opposite effect. Instead, managers need to learn how to cultivate a work culture that builds trust, competence, and engagement among all staff. That is the best way to cut the micromanaging tether.

Photo Credit http://www.flickr.com/photos/cimmyt / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0