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Pity the micromanager

10th Aug 2020
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Most organisations have adapted to the global pandemic by working from home and after any initial teething problems, many have seen a rise in productivity and employee engagement. But what has lockdown and the move to homeworking done to the micromanagers of the world? Without the ability to physically “check in” multiple times a day, how are they handling the lack of control? Of course, many have moved to phone calls but there are only so many times you can schedule a call before it really starts to eat into the time you have to actually do your job.

Now could be a great time to identify if you have a micromanager working in your organisation. But how do you go about identifying a micromanager and beyond that, what do you do once you have identified one? This management style can cause an incredibly toxic working environment for your workforce, so it is crucial to begin to phase out those behaviours before they cause lasting damage.

Identifying a micromanager and those being micromanaged

Most people will know in hindsight what a micromanager looks like, some may have even worked closely with one before. Many will know to look for someone who constantly demands to be cc’ed on every email, or someone who seeks to closely observe and control their subordinates but sometimes it’s not the actions of the management you should look out for, it’s the behaviour of those under them.

When working under a micromanager, all tasks will need to be approved, self-confidence will diminish, and the employees are less likely to meet targets. It is also likely that micromanagers will struggle with delegating tasks. In these cases, you’ll spot the tale tell signs from the members of staff working under them. Are they particularly uncertain, maybe even needy? Do they constantly ask for approval on their work? Do they have a surprisingly low workload? If so, you’ve found someone who’s been micromanaged – maybe right now or in the recent past – and you need to focus on undoing certain behaviours.

Confrontation to collaboration

People often micromanage to feel more connected to lower level employees and in some cases, they feel more comfortable doing their old jobs rather than managing it. Right now, they are probably feeling incredibly stressed and overwhelmed. And the worst part? Most micromanagers have absolutely no idea that they are doing it! Confronting a micromanager is the first step to helping them to ditch the destructive working style, but this must be done with a degree of care.

These conversations can be difficult and, in some cases, if handled badly can trigger more of the same behaviours. However, some may have been subject to it themselves in the past and may want to actively work toward separating from those behaviours. Whichever you anticipate, always go into the conversation with an open mind and cast away any assumptions. Ensure that your tone and wording are both direct and specific – now is not the time for a feedback sandwich, but you can still show empathy toward the situation. Especially in the current environment whilst it’s highly charged.

Leave space for questions, as this can be a difficult subject to come to terms with but most importantly, ensure that you have a solution. Most people will believe the logical next step is to lay off the micromanager, but you can take measures to work together to change their habits.

Working toward better workforce

The journey from micromanaging to healthy working habits will not be instantaneous and will require time and effort. Likewise, a micromanager may need to earn back the trust of those they manage, a process that will not happen overnight.

If you have both decided that this journey is one that is worth taking, the first step is helping them to understand the effect they might be having on others. Remind them that while their controlling behaviour may be well intentioned, it is stopping their juniors from progressing in their career and could even be causing them to feel a lack of confidence, stress and like they are underachieving in their role. Additionally, remind them that by seeing the bigger picture and delegating work, they will not only get more work done, they will also help the company and all its employees to grow.

In some cases, it could be an idea to offer external emotional support or counselling to help them work through these control issues as they could be much deeper rooted than they appear on the surface. 

Working with a micromanager can be difficult but likewise, being a micromanager can be extremely mentally taxing and for many who are unaware of their behaviours it can feel cathartic to stop. These behaviours are not set in stone and can all be unlearned. Taking the time to get to know your employees, their motivations, and how comfortable they really are in their roles will help drastically when it comes to preventing micromanagement. But if you do find one within your organisation, don’t give up on them, they can change and in some cases are incredibly willing to take that journey with you to creating a more pleasant working environment for the entire workforce. 

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