Micromanagement? Let’s drop it!
Management style is like the needed skills for making pottery. You must apply enough pressure to create a high-quality object but be soft enough to avoid damaging the clay you’re shaping. In the same way, a manager has to guide a team to evolve while creating an environment where the “pressure” is far from micromanagement. Software development is an industry where management style influences individual growth, the team’s collaboration, and, ultimately, service quality.
Being a manager comes with a big responsibility, which is why some might think micromanagement is the safest way to do things. But in the long run, the right amount of autonomy allows teams to make progress, develop new ideas and be more productive. Also, management style impacts employee retention, job satisfaction, and work quality.
Miruna M., Project Manager at Nordlogic by AROBS, wrote an impressive analysis about micromanagement. From reasons behind excessive control, its effects on the business, tips and tricks for managers – you can find it all below.
Nordlogic by AROBS joined the AROBS Group at the end of July 2022, consolidating our presence in Romania and North America and expanding the Software Services division with over 60 talented specialists.
What is micromanagement?
For those fortunate ones that do not know what micromanagement is, it is a managerial style that relies on close contact and supervision of the employees. While managers are placing a magnifying glass on the activity of each employee, several side-effects are developing inside the organization. In the following paragraphs, we will take a closer look at the outcome and judge if it’s detrimental to the company.
Let us define micromanagement by painting a picture. You are back in school and today is the day of a surprise test. The teacher decides to position themselves precisely behind you. How does that make you feel? Let’s take another example from the present day. Someone asks you to type something while they’re watching; as an immediate consequence, you forget how to write. Remember this feeling. Next, we’ll add into the mix the constant expectation that you will be punished, although you did nothing wrong. Similar to the irrational anxiety-fueled thought of “maybe I’m a criminal,” some of us are getting whenever a police car drives past. This whole concoction will result in a mocktail that the employees might name: “The Dictator,” “Nagging Chiller,” or “Britney, Toxic.
Why is micromanagement adopted?
To confirm that you are on the right page, here are some quick examples of actions a micromanager will engage in:
- checking where the employees are at all times
- asking for too frequent status updates
- shaming employees for their errors
- not accepting different opinions
- not encouraging knowledge sharing
Being a manager is challenging; the responsibilities are enormous, which could be the reason for adhering to micromanagement practices. As a manager, you want to increase the chances for success because 1, it’s your sacred duty, and 2, who is going to be questioned and taken accountable for a potential project failure?
Micromanagement might seem like a good idea in uncertain situations. It might come in handy when certain employees function best while being constantly directed or when you have a fixed work plan and want to ensure that its outlines will not be crossed. It can help for a while; however, it leaves little room for flexibility and might discourage the employee from free-thinking, finding solutions on their own, and acting independently.
In other instances, micromanagement is used as quality control, especially in critical circumstances when the success rate must be maximized and when the situation is so dire that you’re not affording mistakes as a learning opportunity.
When the team is not welded, a working structure is not established, and the team hasn’t learned to be autonomous, a high-pressure, unpredictable state will take over. Therefore, it is imperative to educate the team to stand alone. When you are prepared and instructed for battle, you will make adequate decisions subconsciously with no need for further supervision.
We can better understand this managerial concept by using a parallel with parenting.
Parents could ask themselves: “How will I make sure my kid doesn’t fall into the traps of life? I can’t be with them at all times!”
Parenting experts will tell you that the only chance to make the journey safer for your child is by refraining from hand-holding them and building their self-worth, the trust in their powers and morals. This will help them navigate through life and make the right decisions independently.
Micromanagement vs. remote work
Remote and hybrid working has become “a thing” in recent years. Now, how will micromanagers cope with this “disastrous” situation? Micromanagers tend to overuse their powers in remote-working settings because it offers them a sense of control while the team is dispersed and unseen.
Yet, by building their confidence, the team will be allowed to perform with low supervision. Of course, their deliverables and progress will be monitored, but from a safe distance. Focusing on deliverables instead of the minutes put into work might aid in creating a prosperous remote work environment.
Additionally, a great deal of remote working is trusting that the company has enrolled the fit people with the proper mindset and work ethic.
Micromanagement or macro management in Agile
Some voices say that working Agile is just a facade of micromanagement. This is a discussion that often balances the two leadership styles:
- The manager holds a constant overview of how things get done
- It can be considered controlling and commanding by promoting a fixed project vision and enforcing decisions and personal points of view
- The micromanager who supervises the team members and applies corrections
- Working Agile encourages several people to reflect upon the results
- The Agile Coach is the team mentor that supports and enables the team
- Enforcing trust and team judgment and decision making
We can observe that Agile tends to represent macro management: macro management is pretty self-explanatory; it is the opposite of micromanagement. In short, it allows the employees to feel trusted and empowered while allowing the manager to have a breather. By promoting macro management, the team’s morale is higher, and the employees are happy to keep dedicating their efforts to the company.
Ultimately, working Agile is just a tool known for its flexibility. It depends on how we adapt agile working to our activities and the company’s ecosystem.
How is micromanagement affecting the company?
By now, we have figured out some of the negative effects that come along with this managerial style. Still, we will deepen the analysis so we can grasp the full effects of long-term micromanagement.
A toll on the employees
We’re going back in time, again, to when you were a child. How did it feel when adults said you were too little to do something you believed yourself capable of doing?
The sheer tone of the over-controlling parent:
“Watch X. I can already see them cutting their fingers off!”,
“You’re a kid. You have no business doing this.”
This parenting type makes one afraid to engage in new activities, and the effect is either rebelling or obeying and relying on the parents’ every word. The parent is so controlling that they would even speak for the kid.
Let’s look at the opposite instance: Your parents gave you an “adult” chore. You were so proud they assigned you an important task. Sure, you were nervous about performing it because you didn’t want to mess it up, but that made you give 100% to confirm that you can do it and that you are a big kid now. You felt trusted, empowered, and proud of yourself once you completed the task.
While being constantly monitored and given specific instructions, a micromanaged employee will perceive it as being controlled and as if their judgment and ideas are not good enough. In addition, they will come to the sense that they will never be good enough to please the demanding manager, previously known as the overbearing parent.
Negative effects of micromanagement
A micromanager is not necessarily ill-intended, but the strategy might not be the best managerial method for achieving the best results. A manager can keep an eye on the team’s progress, mistakes, and underachievement and may gather up all the details of the team’s work. It can also be considered that the manager knows best, is closer to the client and the business needs, and is suited to make the project decisions. Yes, but through lack of communication, trust, and collaboration, a manager can also miss some project inside perspective, great ideas, and solutions that can often come through a team member’s expertise.
A close-knit team-manager relationship can help find better solutions because, conclusively, several brains are better than one.
Here are other, just as critical adverse effects of micromanagement we should consider:
- Employee retention: Micromanagement can significantly affect a company’s employee retention rates, reducing job satisfaction.
- Job satisfaction: Employees must feel that they are trusted to perform their duties along with feeling appreciated, being paid equitably, having a work-life balance, growing prospects, and overcoming challenges.
- Unrealistic expectations: Managers find themselves under the constant pressure of keeping things perfectly in order, but that is an impossible task.
- Poor quality: Frustration and stress will build up for both parties, eventually leading to poor performance.
- Losing the broad view: When focusing on managing details, a manager can lose the bigger picture of the project.
- Company culture: The overall company culture can be affected by having micromanagement styles promoted within the company. This might cause a bad reputation since current and former employees might be very vocal in complaining about it.
- Employee-manager relationship: The employees might build up resentment towards a manager that doesn’t trust them and keeps tabs on every mistake.
- Learning drop: Employees rely on instructions and become not so keen to continue learning independently.
- Decreased productivity: The employee will either lose interest in performing well and become disengaged or unable to produce top performance due to poor mental or physical health. Not to mention the high probability of burnout.
Tips and tricks for managers
1. Communication: Encourage communication between you and your employees and amongst themselves. This will provide clarity and will increase reliability.
2. Positive relationships: Make them feel comfortable when they report hiccups and ask for help when needed. Create a safe, positive environment and be an enabler for your employees.
3. Team check-in: Make sure they have everything they need to perform at their best. Solve any blockers that might have come their way. And gather progress status regularly with little to no pressure.
4. Managerial documentation: A manager can create organizational documents to aid in the process lifecycle, such as objective checklists, risk assessments, and KPIs, keeping an eye on project milestones. Remember, control the project, not the team member
5. Explain “what” not “how”: You give a task, not a resolution. Make sure the expectations are fully understood and frequently communicated.
6. Focusing on deliverables: This will help you see the bigger picture and also the quantifiable value an employee brings in.
7. Feedback: Feedback can help adjust relationships and ways of working and aid learning. Hold post-mortems and lessons-learned meetings and document it all. Have regular 1×1 meetings to provide and ask for feedback.
8. Hiring and team composition: Your team should act as a machine, making sure all parts are working together successfully and that there are enough resources available. If one wheel is missing, the balance will not be attainable.
9. Training: The whole team will benefit from a focus on employee development. Working independently on each employee’s career path and evolution will increase the expertise of the entire team. Assign them work that will help their trajectory and make sure that they’re enjoying their activity.
10. Express recognition: Make them feel valued, and their work appreciated. You can express it verbally or by awarding their efforts. You must do so both privately and publicly.
11. Don’t penalize small mistakes: Errors happen, we are all human, and the employee will be grateful and build trust in you.
Adapting a managerial style based on the actual environment is a skill. Micromanagement can help in certain situations for short periods, but what alternatives exist? Building productive processes, documenting the project, educating employees, maintaining a healthy, sturdy company structure, and encouraging communication.
In the grand scheme of things, renouncing obsessive monitoring and encouraging employees to have faith in their abilities and challenge themselves to evolve will bring the company far more stability in the long run. Trust them and let them trust themselves.