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How to Avoid Becoming a Micromanager

image for Ridofranz / Getty Images
Ridofranz / Getty Images
  • Micromanagement involves excessive control over employee behavior, tasks and workflow.
  • Micromanagement is associated with many markers of a negative employee experience, but in certain situations, it can be more useful than macromanagement.
  • You can easily avoid micromanaging your employees by setting concrete goals, requirements and deadlines.
  • This article is for managers and team leaders who want to avoid micromanaging their employees or unlearn their current micromanagement style. 

As a manager , you may feel compelled to exert full control over your team's day-to-day activities. Often, this compulsion takes the form of excessive control over your employees' activities, tasks and workflow. Regularly checking to see what your employees are doing, offering them frequent criticism and taking over work delegated to them are all hallmarks of micromanagement. And as you probably know, micromanagement gets a bad rap, even though it may be an appropriate employee management style in some cases.

Micromanagement is a management style in which a supervisor criticizes employees' work at every step of the way. Instead of letting employees complete their tasks by their deadlines and then providing additional feedback, micromanagers insert themselves at every stage. Micromanagers' critiques vary in depth, but they are always delivered too frequently. 

Key takeaway: Micromanagement is a management style defined by constant, excessive control and feedback.

Whether you identify with the micromanager qualities or want to take care to never become a micromanager, you can take certain steps to avoid micromanaging your employees. These steps include the following:

  • Set a few metrics or objectives for the project, and commit to not commenting on any other aspects of the work.
  • Set firm deadlines for your deliverables, and make them quantifiable and actionable – but give your employees the freedom to complete these tasks in their own way.
  • Let your employees know how long after they file their deliverables they should expect to receive feedback from you, and state how much feedback you expect to provide.
  • Tell your employees that they can go to you for help, coaching or other relevant assistance. 

Key takeaway: To avoid becoming a micromanager, clearly state your project goalposts, deadlines and feedback process while keeping yourself open to employee questions and concerns. These concrete steps can help you avoid micromanaging and all of the concerns it brings.

If you're a team leader wondering whether you're a micromanager, look for the following trends in how you oversee your employees' tasks and work:

  • You personally take on work you've assigned to your team.
  • You often walk through your office to check what your employees are doing.
  • You require that your employees copy you on all emails.
  • You frequently ask for updates on tasks and feel a nagging need to know all of your employees' whereabouts and activities during work hours.
  • You focus on superficial or superfluous details and pedantic errors instead of larger concerns.
  • You provide strict rules about how work should be done, instead of giving your employees the freedom to complete tasks as they see fit.
  • You ignore your employees' thoughts and opinions when assessing the quality of a project.
  • You feel the need to have the final say on all decisions.
  • You almost always find yourself unsatisfied with your employees' final work.

Key takeaway: If your management style involves excessive control or full completion of not just employees' work but also their activities and communications, you are likely micromanaging.

Although many leadership experts look down upon micromanagement, this leadership style isn't entirely without benefits. Here are some of the pros of micromanagement:

  • Thorough control of company operations. If you need to track and control your employees' progress every step of the way, micromanaging allows you to do exactly that.
  • Employee accountability. Micromanagement can help you avoid situations where you worry that your clients will say your deliverables are unsatisfactory. Instead of having to hold your employees accountable after the fact, catch their errors in advance to ensure their accountability throughout the process.
  • Better completion of complex processes. If progress on a project requires the completion of several steps with highly specific approaches and desired outcomes, you may increase your employees' productivity by micromanaging them through these steps. As you guide your employees through these complexities, their skills related to these projects may improve, leading to sustained future increases in productivity.
  • Accurate metrics. Need to know how much time it takes for your employees to complete certain tasks? If your leadership style involves regularly asking your employees for updates and tracking their progress, then sure, you're a micromanager, but you're also a boss with a strong sense of your team's efficiency and capacity.
  • Stronger teams. As you first assemble a team or bring on new employees, opting for micromanagement may prove better for your operations. Your employees might not be ready to have full autonomy until they repeatedly show that they've entirely learned the skills needed for the job.
  • Unification of remote teams. If you oversee a remote team, micromanaging your employees can help to keep everybody connected and on track to meet their shared goals. Plus, if you notice disengaged employees distracted by the many other things they could be doing at home, micromanagement helps to reel them back in.

Key takeaway: The pros of micromanagement emerge when bosses micromanage new or remote teams or employees, guide employees through complex processes or need to calculate employee performance metrics.

As you might have guessed from the negative reputation that micromanagement has earned, this management style has many drawbacks. Here are some of the cons of micromanagement:

  • The implication that you don't trust your employees. Few things frustrate people more than feeling like someone doesn't trust them. Imagine if that person controlled your income. A micromanager's behavior often implies a lack of trust in their employees' behavior and skills, leading to lower employee morale.
  • Employee overdependence on managers. Micromanagement is a two-way street. Just as you attempt to control every action that your employees take, your employees will internalize the notion that they need to get your approval at every step of the way before continuing with a project. In turn, you may find yourself with too much responsibility, excessive stress levels, and a team lacking organization, motivation and
  • Unsuitability for larger organizations. Not even the most efficient boss can actively micromanage all of the employees on a larger company's team. Doing so will increase not just your employees' stress levels, but yours, too. Plus, you could quickly find your workflow lacking organization.
  • No focus on larger or longer-term goals. Whether your company is a small business or a massive corporation, micromanagement can lead to too strong a focus on small, mostly irrelevant details. A pedantic manager may sacrifice the quality of the project or product at large – not to mention employee engagement and job satisfaction – to perfect largely superfluous aspects of the work.
  • Coupled with the lack of trust that micromanagement implies, the constant distraction of overly abundant feedback can lead to disengaged employees whose behavior deviates even further from the rigid standard you seek. 

Key takeaway: Micromanagement frustrates employees, leads to a poor company culture, makes employees overdependent on team leaders and can't effectively be scaled for use in larger companies.

Some bosses might be macromanagers instead of micromanagers. These managers prefer to minimally supervise their employees and instead give them the freedom to complete their tasks in their own style. Macromanagers tend to provide feedback, if needed, after work is completed rather than constantly during the course of the project. Whether one style works better than the other depends on the manager and the employee, though micromanagement is far more often associated with low job satisfaction, poor company culture and other markers of a bad work experience.

As previously discussed, micromanagement may help a manager familiarize new team members with the job and help them develop the skills the work demands. Macromanagement may be better for employees who have demonstrated sufficient prowess and consistently high quality in their work. Macromanagement may also be the better option for larger teams that can't possibly be managed directly by one person.

You can also look at micromanagement and macromanagement as approaches to move in and out of fluidly. After several weeks or months of micromanaging a new employee, you can switch to macromanagement to show that you trust the employee, encourage them to approach their tasks in their own distinct style and decrease your own workload. Conversely, if you notice that an employee whom you macromanage often repeats mistakes, you may need to micromanage them for quality control purposes until they learn to avoid those errors. 

Key takeaway: Micromanagement may be better for supervising new employees or employees who repeat mistakes, whereas macromanagement may be better for supervising larger teams or trusted employees.

Max Freedman

Max Freedman is a freelance writer who covers best business practices for business.com and culture for publications including The A.V. Club, MTV, Paste, FLOOD, and Bandcamp. He lives in Philly and doesn't miss his native New York.