Are You a Micromanager? Here’s How to Tell (and Why You Should Change)

by Suzanne Kearns on September 18, 2012
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Merriam-Webster defines micromanagers as people who “manage especially with excessive control or attention to details” or “direct or conduct the activities of a group or an enterprise by micromanaging them.”

Most entrepreneurs understand (at least on some level) that micromanaging can undermine the efforts of otherwise productive employees. But you may be surprised by just how much this management style can negatively affect your small business.

Here’s how to tell whether you’re a micromanager — and, if you are, why you should change your ways.

Are You a Micromanager?

Micromanagement implies a lack of trust, notes author and leadership expert Robert Whipple on The Trust Ambassador blog. It begins with a manager giving helpful instructions to employees and worsens over time, until employees mentally check out, realizing that whatever they do will be either redone or hyper-scrutinized and critiqued. In addition, employees start to avoid the manager because the frustration is too much to bear, which makes the manager hover over them even more because he isn’t receiving the constant feedback he requires.

According to the consultants at Transformation Associates, the general characteristics of micromanagement include:

  • The manager tells employees exactly what to do — and how and when to do it. Employees have no input in the process.
  • Employees lack the freedom to make decisions, even small ones, without first running them by the manager.
  • There is little or no delegation of authority. If there is a limited amount, it’s fleeting.
  • Employees spend more time reporting on their progress than working on projects.
  • The manager does the tasks of her employees.
  • The input given by the manager doesn’t offer incremental value.  He focuses on mundane things, such as a single grammatical error in a 20-page proposal. (Although corrections have their place — just ask my editors!)

Why You Should Stop Micromanaging

Obviously, if you have a “checked out” employee, you won’t get the same level of productivity and creativity that you would from an employee who is encouraged to think on her own. What’s worse, Harry Chambers, the author of My Way or the Highway: The Micromanagement Survival Guide, says that 70 percent of workers claim that micromanagement has interfered with their job performance. Three out of five people have left a job due to micromanagement. Considering that it costs from half to five times an employee’s yearly salary to hire and train a new employee, depending on the position, that can really affect your bottom line.

How You Can Stop

If you’re cringing at the above description of micromanagement and want to change your ways, here’s how to get started:

  • Ask why. If you’re micromanaging, there’s probably an underlying reason. Do you question your employees’ ability to get the job done, or are you just more comfortable when you’re in control? Once you pinpoint the “why,” you can determine the next step.
  • Re-examine your staff. Before you assume you have a management problem, consider whether your employees are up to the tasks. If not, retrain or replace them.
  • Learn to delegate. Although it’s probably true that no one can handle the job like you can, you should ask yourself whether it has to be done your way. If not, take a step back and realize that your employees’ ideas can be just as good as your own.

Despite good intentions, micromanagement ultimately hurts a business, whether it results in low employee morale, wasted time, or high employee turnover.

Suzanne has been a full-time freelance writer for 20 years. She’s written for numerous business and financial publications such as Entrepreneur, Reason Magazine, Home Business Magazine, and Money Crashers.

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