Revelling in the detail

It is important to consider managing micromanagers, Leon Gettler writes.

It is important to consider managing micromanagers, Leon Gettler writes.

Micromanaging bosses will say their relentless attention to detail improves performance and has everyone focused on doing outstanding work. Of course, it doesn't work that way.

Micromanagement is in effect telling employees they are not doing a good job. That is no way to build good performance.

Writing in entrepreneur.com, entrepreneur superstar Richard Branson says it is counterproductive.

"Employees will not take responsibility for their actions if the boss is looking over their shoulders all the time," Branson says. "They will not take the initiative to work that extra hour, make that extra call or squeeze that little bit more out of a negotiation."

As a rule, micromanagement has nothing to do with employees. It's more about the manager's internal anxiety and need to control.

Often they are insecure about their job and responsibilities. Chances are they are untrained as managers.

That means one thing: you cannot change their behaviour. All you can do is look at your response.

The first thing to do is to evaluate the kind of person the boss is. Some micromanagers will constantly send people back to rework something if it doesn't measure up. They always have to be in control. But they don't necessarily stifle people's creativity and efforts.

Steve Jobs was one such boss. He was a perfectionist and brutal but he allowed people to express themselves. As he told his biographer, Walter Isaacson: "We're brutally honest with each other and all of them can tell me they think I'm full of shit, and I can tell anyone I think they're full of shit."

If you can hack that, it might be worth sticking around as you might learn something.

They are quite different to the pathological micromanagers who give people no autonomy and who obsess about issues like font size rather than the big picture. These are the ones who have to be managed carefully.

There are several things that can be done here. The first rule is not to fight back. That can be counterproductive. If you fight back, whether it's done overtly or passively, the manager may conclude you can't be trusted.

Work in with their patterns. You can help them by prompting them to give you all the information you need up front, and set interim review points along the way. Another good idea is to make sure you communicate progress to your boss regularly. They need to be kept in the loop.

Also, try to anticipate the tasks and get them done well ahead of time. If you tell them: "Actually, I have already done that and left a report on your desk", they are more likely to leave you be as time goes on.

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