When it comes to managing employees, striking the balance between hands-on and micromanaging can be tough. After all, you want to be sure that employees “get it” and that the work is being done well. What’s the harm in making sure?
It could be more than you think. A 2014 survey by staffing giant Accountemps found that nearly 60% of employees interviewed said they had worked for a micromanager at some point, and that it decreased their morale (68%) and hurt their productivity (55%).
Sometimes, it can be hard to recognize those tendencies in ourselves, says Marc Prine, director of consulting and assessment at Taylor Strategy Partners, an executive recruitment and human resources consulting firm. Often, the intentions are good—we simply want the work to be as good as it can be. But keeping employees on a short leash inhibits their ability to grow and develop their abilities, which may also lead to decreased engagement and job satisfaction, he says.
There are some clues that you might be micromanaging, and they can be found in everyday conversation. If you find yourself saying some of these things on a regular basis, you might be a micromanager.
Hovering, whether it’s virtually through instant messaging or email or through in-person check-ins, is a major sign of micromanagement, says leadership consultant and expert Jeffrey Magee. You may just be trying to seem accessible for questions or feedback, but the employee is often left with the impression that you don’t trust that the job will get done well, he says. If you’ve hired good people, have good systems in place, and have a solid training program, you need to give them some space to do the work. And, if not, those are the things you need to fix first, he says.
This is a trap that often snares new managers, Prine says. Sure, the work might get done faster if you just take care of it the first time, but how much time are you losing if you don’t train someone to whom it can be effectively delegated?
“[Many people] don’t realize that if you explain it a few times and you put in the time right now, then later on down the road you can just say, ‘Here’s a ball, go run with it,’” he says. That frees you up to make better use of your time, and shows your employee you have confidence in his or her ability.
Sometimes, you need to see the memo or work product before it goes out the door—but other times, that’s just an added layer of administration that doesn’t need to be done, says leadership consultant Bill Adams, cofounder of the consultancy The Leadership Circle and coauthor of Mastering Leadership: An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Business Results. If you have to see everything before it goes out the door, it won’t be long before you inhibit productivity. Sometimes, this behavior stems from the manager’s desire to show he or she knows it all.
“Managers or leaders often define themselves by being able to answer all the questions, solve all the problems, and actually do a great deal of the work. I find that [some] managers and leaders don’t make a transition from understanding that their job is to get the work done,” he says.
Sometimes, like when you’re working with sensitive data or materials, it’s important to follow a specific process in getting things done. But much of the time, the process doesn’t matter as much as the final product, Adams says. If you’re correcting people who are doing good work because you don’t like the way they get it done, you need to look at why you’re doing so and whether it matters, he says.
The more you do so, the more “the individual or the team that’s working for this leader get less and less capable,” he says. “It’s not sustainable.” Plus, you extinguish the possibility that your employees will innovate and come up with new and better ways of getting things done—which should be one of the reasons you hired them.
Team members may struggle a bit, especially when they’re first learning something new. That can be uncomfortable to watch, but it’s an important part of the process, says Leigh Steere, cofounder, Managing People Better, LLC, a management research project and tool. But when a manager steps in to finish a project rather than letting team members learn the ropes, you’ve set up a dangerous precedent that can make employees feel diminished and inadequate.
“Micromanaging stems from a need to be in control, and in our experience, controlling managers often do not ‘own’ their controlling tendencies–or if they do, they laugh them off or justify them in some way, like, ‘Quality is super-important to me, and there’s nothing wrong with pursuing quality,’” she says. Whenever possible, coach your employees over the finish line instead of taking them out of the race altogether.