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Micromanagement & Collaboration

Being micromanaged is a very personal and individual experience because it is mostly handed down as feedback and trepidations around someone’s progress.

Managers who micromanage are often worried and feel detached from the notion of ‘what’s going on’. Balancing the see-saw between delegation and micromanagement is key to a manager-report relationship.

High-performing people today request autonomy to go about getting things done without anyone micromanaging them.  Midlevel managers, often work for someone of higher rank who keeps them accountable for everything their reports are working on.

Finding the right balance between granting a person  autonomy while simultaneously acquiring the necessary detail needed to be aware of what is happening system wide exemplifies one of the core challenges  in any management role. 

So whenever we are told,  “this is how we will do this, it’s the only way”, micromanagement has narrowed the focus somewhat. This is what we can call a non-elective choice – a ‘not-a-choice’ kinda choice’.  Someone has decided to narrow their (and all other) choice to the only single solution that they consider valid.

The situation boils down to layers of trust:

  • an accountable manager has to trust employees who require all the necessary freedom to do their work as best as they can
  • the same manager wants to be trusted by everyone (seniors and peers) who form part of the system whether inside or outside of the managers context

In context of trust everyone expects everyone to instinctively be doing the right thing and doing ‘what it takes’ to serve the business context.  Managers who don’t trust themselves are a dangerous liability, lack of self-trust in a manager can really poison a business environment.

Micromanagement is often sadly an emotional symptom, one that boils down to a lack of trust – either in oneself as a manager or an inability to trust a report.

Herein lies a potentially big problem – to most of us trust is an award – an award given by one person to another – it’s innate, we all give some, we all receive some, it’s a gift awarded to someone who is behaving with integrity.

But there is a dark side too, it’s called distrust, distrust reveals a dark side that very few people know or even understand.  My late grandmother summed it up for me in the statement below.

when you distrust your fellow man you confiscate their right to dignity and without dignity there can be no honour”, “we all have a spiritual duty to be honourable, . . . . give trust to everyone, without strings. . . because trust, like kindness, is a truly noble thing.”

Delegation sounds so simple, and that hovering trust thing called micromanagement is a big threat to productivity and more importantly happiness; So how does one delegate wisely.

Here are some ideas for refining the practise of delegation and preventing a micromanagement mindset:

  • Delegate the problem, don’t delegate a solution.  Micromanagement happens when immature managers delegate the details of the solution.  While it works for people in menial rote jobs, being told up front what steps to take or follow will make someone feel like they are being treated as fools – it presupposes the other person can’t think independently. More importantly delegating a solution doesn’t allow anyone to grow skills or a career.  However where such steps are universal, it often helps to provide a different view of the problem.
  • Share contexts or stories from the past, don’t lecture.  As a story evolves most people will spot a pattern or an analogue that brings context to their job.  Be mindful, sometimes the way a story or experience is shared can come across as either “sage sharing of experiences”, or if it fails it, could be perceived as ‘even more micromanagement’!  Share the story and allow the learning to take place through metaphor or example – be wary of behaving like a manipulative politician by turning a story in ‘just do the following because it’s the right thing to do’.
  • Sit back and listen, don’t edit progress reports.  Delegating the problem, and not the solution, means that when progress is being reported it is good practise to allow progress reports to flow the way it works best.  Micromanaging and being overly prescriptive about how progress is be reported or ordering people into a review meeting to interrogate their progress is counterproductive.  If someone is requested to take something on, ensure they are provided the freedom and dignity to define the process of the project as well.
  • Give positive feedback, do not ‘course correct’.  When things are not going so well managers often fall into a prescriptive ‘let me fix this properly’ mode.  This goes completely against the grain and messes with the benefits of delegation and worst of all it disincentivises most people.  Course correcting is blatant disempowerment, and worst of all it but demoralizes people.  As soon as issues arise, it’s time to be frank, candid and provide clear feedback graciously and allow for free open dialog. Sometimes there is a fine line between ‘help’ and fascism. Most intelligent people will over-react to ‘course correct’ statements – angry at being left out – excluded – undervalued – under-appreciated, and many will just give in, disappointed that they cannot have a say, and unhappy at not being empowered to offer an alternative.
  • Communicate transparently, don’t ‘stop the press’ for progress reports.  Projects are a constant struggle, where people juggle work and time.  The worst waste of time that visibly impedes progress on a project arises when a manager calls for multiple audience reviews or updates in a formal manner (meetings, written reports).  Dysfunctional reporting dressed up as communication slows everything down – first there is the distraction and downtime that constant preparation for these artefacts requires, plus the downtime of ‘formal’ reviews – then there is more time wasted while these outputs are created. All this adds a huge overhead to progress.  If management is uneasy about project status, then spend the time in a walk-the–floor ‘fortuitous chat’ type contact with the team and forgo constant tapping them up for formal reports.

The best solution here is to follow the ‘golden rule’, “treat everyone the way you would like to be treated”,  and endorse that attitude in everyone.  A person that is eager to request and receive feedback won’t see a keen manager as micromanaging.  A person that seeks autonomy and space working for a manager that has keen propensity for feedback, will likely perceive this as micromanagement and not as empowerment through delegation.

In most cases this micromanagement issue is not normally a sign of selfishness on the part of the ‘commander’ or ‘ yielding’ or ‘cowardice’ on the part of the person ‘succumbing’ to the others will. In fact both parties are potentially ‘victims’ in this type of situation. Collaboration centres around ensuring buy-in so if you have good reason to rekindle some choice you will need to ensure that you get buy-in for ‘more choice’ as well. As you can see this frank relationship moment needs to be handled subtly, candidly and utterly graciously.

The trick is to openly discuss these ‘being managed’ expectations before any work begins – and if you have spent time together previously and have a ‘connection’ however good or difficult, then new approaches may well work for one another.

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