Worker Productivity and Micromanagement

A noted writer and speaker had a message to the micromanagers of the world. That message was: “stop it.”

Here are a couple of great quotes from his recent post:

Good managers are brave, and generous with trust in their people. The want them to mature in their judgment and grow in their skills, preferring to err on the side of trusting too much than trusting too little. They take pleasure in letting go and giving power away to their staff, accepting that when someone who works for them shines, they shine too.

But if you do not enjoy these things, and struggle to trust your staff, or can’t bear to see a decision made or reward earned without your name all over it, you should stop managing people.

Even if you are 30% better at a task than someone who works for you, the time it takes for you to check on them every few hours, and demand approvals over trivial decisions, costs more in lost morale, passion for work, and destruction of self-respect among your staff than the 30% you think you’re adding.  No one works well if they feel they are being treated like an idiot child. Having two people involved in work that should only require one wastes everyone’s time.

An easy test of micromanagement is to let your team know you are confident in their ability to do their job and offer, if they wish, that you will be less involved in their day to day work to give them more room to perform. Tell them you are available if they need you, but otherwise you will put some of your attention elsewhere. See what happens. Hold your tongue. Don’t demand to review that email. Don’t insist on regulating who can meet with who. Take one small step backward and see what happens.

Odds are extremely good the world will not end.

worker productivity being micromanaged

© Flickr user Cristiano Betta

There are so many wonderful aspects to Berkun’s essay, but let’s just focus on key concept. Ultimately, he clearly recognizes that great management is not about controlling work but about enabling work to be done.

Unfortunately, most of us have more experience being micromanaged than we do in self-assessment of our own management style. Although we might like to anonymously send our boss a letter like this, what advice is there for us? Here are some thoughts for workers under the corporate microscope:

Dear Micromanaged Employee,

I know work is tough. It seems like every task you do your boss has to double check, whether there are errors or not. Not a half an hour goes by without a manager or team member dropping by your cubicle to discuss the status of a current project. The phone rings constantly, and if you don’t answer, people wonder where you are. You feel micromanaged.

It might seem like the only options are to quit or to endure. But you can take actions that will help to improve your situation.

Most importantly, try to understand the motivations of those who seem to dominate your time and belittle your work. Are they fearful? Distrustful? Obsessive? Respond by finding ways to allay their concerns. Structure your work and your communication about your work to help demonstrate that these feelings are not needed.

Second, measure your own work to show your improvement. Each time someone checks on your progress, make a note of the time, duration, project and conversation. If you’re speaking with your boss an average of 7 times a day at an average 6 minutes for each conversation, share this information with your boss and suggest that you actively schedule a brief meeting every hour on the hour. Explain how you want to improve the quality of your work, and so hopefully you will be able to reduce the frequency of these meetings over the coming weeks.

Finally, remember that all people love to feel important. If people are constantly checking on your work, recognize their expertise by repeatedly seeking their approval and input. With genuine respect, schedule time with them before they can interrupt you. These requests for their expertise may start out fruitful, but eventually you will no longer need to meet so frequently. Thank them for teaching you how to improve. Praise them for their guidance and support. And then, get back to work.

Warmest regards,

A Formerly Micromanaged Employee

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