Micromanaging leads to hurt feelings, frustration and anxiety. Even though managers and leaders know that micromanaging has dire consequences, it occurs at an alarming rate. Why is this so? Some of us have been taught to control. Many workers grew up with parents, teachers or bosses telling them what to do and they may not have trusting role models. For others, it is something innate in which they like to control so there are no surprises. And for a great many, it is easier to micromanaging. Telling and demanding is quicker and easier than explaining, revising and learning. In times of stress, even those who are not micromanagers turn to control.
The feeling of something going wrong for which you are responsible is not a good feeling. Especially if there is blamed or attack. And yet, the unpleasant cycle is often continued because we do not know how to stop it. We do it because it is what we have been taught or we take the blame heaped on us and transfer it to someone else. It is frustrating to tell someone to do something and have them do it wrong, not on time, or even worse – not as we would do it. Errors reinforce that they cannot do it unless we micromanage and watch over every step.
The results are that employees do what we tell them without understanding how or why. If they have ideas that may improve the process or steps, they do not feel they can share those ideas. Therefore, micromanagers are left with employees who are angry, hurt, frustrated and in an environment lacking innovation and creativity.
Micromanaging is a barrier to trust and empowerment. It keeps relationships at a distance as who has power is emphasized rather than building a mutual relationship. Although it can be scary to “let go”, it is possible to create a trusting and healthy relationship. Here are some quick tips on reducing micromanaging behavior.
Make sure instructions and guidelines are clear. We may think we have illustrated what we want clearly, but the people we tell often do not have our vision, experience or context. Pertinent information such as deadlines need to be made clear. It needs to be clear it is not a suggestion, but a must. Provide clear guidelines on the necessities, but leave room for people to do it how they want.
Let go one step at a time. Let employees prove what they can do and identify areas in which they may need assistance or coaching. Let them know your ultimate goal is to give them autonomy, but it has to be earned. As they build confidence and learn, let go. Each task or responsibility is different, so make connections on what tasks are similar and if they are done well, let go of the reins.
Become self-aware of your insecurities and the consequences of an error. What is leading to the need to micromanaging? Is it the fear of being reprimanded? Will there be financial or other consequences if something is done incorrectly? If consequences are insignificant, let more go. Let the employee learn what is or is not important through your guidance.
Explain why. The more context you can give as to why something has to be done and how it needs to be done, the more likely they will be to do it the right way. Understanding the why leads to action and inquiries. Employees who are kept in the dark feel powerless and will not be able to innovate or influence even thought they may have great ideas.
Make coaching a priority. As employees make mistakes, discuss what was done wrong and the importance of doing it a different way or why it is urgent. It may mean giving a further explanation of why the process is important, who it effects if it is done wrong or how it goes to the next person in the chain. Understanding leads to competence. If they make errors, help them learn from them so they can improve.