7 ways to tell if you are a micromanager.
Posted on 9th February 2022 at 12:49
It’s so easy to see the signs in other people. We all know someone who is a micromanager and we all feel sorry for the people in their teams.
But most of us believe we couldn’t possibly be micromanagers ourselves.
So I wonder how many of these unmistakeable signs of micromanagement might be creeping into your own daily actions as a manager?
1. You interrupt other people’s phone conversations.
You often can’t help overhearing team members’ phone conversations in an office environment. No doubt you’ll often ask people to make calls on your behalf. And sometimes you will hear them say something – or not say something – that makes you cringe.
But if you find yourself telling them what they should be saying to the person on the other end of the line while they are still on the call, you’ve overstepped the mark.
Not only can the person on the other end of the phone hear you, but I can guarantee to them it sounds rude, and it undermines the team member who was trying their best on the call. Either pass them a note, wait until the call has finished to debrief them, or make the call yourself.
2. You make a mental note of what time people arrive at work and go home.
Nothing quite says "I don’t trust you" like checking your watch or the clock whenever someone starts or finishes work.
I remember starting to tidy my things away one evening and being told by my manager that there were still 2 minutes to go, and if I didn’t have anything to do she would find me something!
No matter that I’d arrived early, worked through my lunchbreak, and completed everything I had been asked to do that day. This was irrelevant if the big hand wasn’t absolutely vertical.
There are very few jobs where the odd minute or two here and there are going to make any significant difference to a team’s productivity. Nit-picking over a couple of minutes is only going to create a culture of clockwatching, inflexibility and resentment which will have a far more detrimental effect on team performance.
3. You punish everyone when one person does something wrong
Remember that teacher everyone hated, who would make the whole class stay in at breaktime because one person was messing about?
Well, it may just be that you are managing your time like that too.
You notice that one person is breaking a rule, but you feel awkward about tackling them individually. It’s going to be a difficult conversation. You’re not quite sure how to tackle it. What if they get upset?
So rather than create a scene and risk upsetting the wrongdoer, you decide to write to everyone in the team – or worse still, the whole organisation - to express your displeasure and remind everyone about the rules.
So one person is seen smoking in front of the building, and everyone gets an email telling them that smoking is only allowed at the back of the building.
Now instead of upsetting and correcting the one smoker, all the smokers are annoyed. As well as the non-smokers who probably feel bad themselves now, and they don’t even smoke.
4. Your team need your help several times a day, just to do their day job.
Now you might be thinking that this is a sign you are a very good manager. Indispensable, even. After all, you are the fount of all knowledge, and your team clearly need you.
All the time.
So much so, in fact, that you are pulled from pillar to post most days, and usually have to take work home in the evenings and at weekends because that’s the only chance you get to do your own day job.
A good manager should be able to catch up with their team once a day, set them off with their tasks, and spend the rest of their time coaching people who are learning new skills, or doing their own day job.
If your team members cannot do their day job without you being physically available to help them, then something is badly wrong. They either need more training, better procedures or performance management.
Usually in that order.
5. You have to check everything before it leaves the team.
Now, don’t get me wrong, in most jobs there will be something the manager needs to check before it goes to a customer or another manager. Important quotes where profit margins need to be maintained. Responses to difficult customer complaints. A new item that the team has never produced before.
But if you are checking every email, every spreadsheet and every quote before it is sent outside the team, you do need to stop and ask yourself why this is?
Have your team been properly trained on how to do these tasks correctly?
Do they have clear parameters in which they can work without needing things to be checked (for example, financial limits)?
Are there ways of systemising the work they do so that more of it can be done without the need for a manager’s approval.
Is your team or company culture so toxic that people are terrified of being blamed for making mistakes?
Are you just too scared to let go in case something goes wrong?
6. Everything your team produces has your name on it.
I once worked for a manager who told me to put my name on every piece of work I did, so that senior managers would know what I was capable of.
I worked so hard on anything I knew would go to another manager, because I wanted them to see my absolute best work.
The next manager I worked for insisted that everything leaving the department had their name on it, not mine, because I was working on their behalf, not my own. It was a clear and simple message – my manager was going to take the credit for everything I did.
I didn’t bother working so hard. Why should I when I wasn’t going to get any credit for it?
It's why I say you get the team you deserve, as a manager. If you want people to work hard, give them a reason to do so.
What’s in it for them, if you take all the glory?
7. You routinely stop people doing their work, because something else has become a priority.
I can guarantee you this drives your team to distraction.
They are happily getting on with the tasks you told them were a priority this morning, just making some real progress with them, and along you come to tell them that something else is now urgent, and they need to stop what they are doing and start this new task.
Not only do you now look disorganised and somewhat inept, having only given them their priorities for the day an hour or so ago, but you have also reduced their productivity by stopping them in the middle of another task, to start them doing something else.
Now they have to do the new task (which you probably need to explain to them) and by the time they come back to this morning’s priorities, they’ll have forgotten where they were and have to spend several minutes reminding themselves of what they had done and what was still left to do.
That’s assuming you don’t have another new priority this afternoon.
If you’re frequently getting caught out by emergencies that mean you have to reprioritise work, then you need to ask yourself what is missing in your daily planning activity that causes this to happen?
And if you are sure your planning is ok, then what is missing in the communication you receive from other managers or customers?
And if the planning and communication are all good, what is it with the company’s working methods that causes emergencies to occur regularly?
Help - I think I'm a micromanager - what can I do?
Although micromanagement is often given a really bad name - such as in the examples above - it's also true to say that there are times when micromanagement is the best way of managing people.
It works really well with new or inexperienced team members, or people learning a new task for the first time. Situations where the individual needs detailed instructions, and the manager needs to closely monitor their performance and give them detailed feedback on what they did well and what to improve next time.
But if you have experienced team, completing tasks with which they are familiar and who generally perform well, micromanagement simply doesn’t work. In fact, it is worse than this, it can actively switch people off if they feel the manager is exerting excessive control, or focusing on tiny details that are of little importance.
If you recognised yourself in any of these 7 signs, and want to find more effective ways of managing, why not:
Find out more about Accidental Manager Coaching, and how it could help you and your team.
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