The Dangers of Micromanaging: When to Delegate
For employees who’ve had to deal with or report directly to a micromanager, it can be a stressful and frustrating experience. As the CEO of your business, the director of a department or the head of a team, you should be concerned with leading rather than completing your subordinates’ projects. This can be especially difficult for founders or early employees of a business, since they have a large stake in succeeding and have set a vision for the company since the beginning.
In the article “The Consequences of Micromanaging,” The National Contract Management Association defines micromanaging as “a management style in which a supervisor closely observes or controls the work of an employee.” In other words, micromanagers tend to monitor and observe every step of every project instead of allowing employees to complete smaller tasks on their own. It’s no secret that this type of management style is toxic, ultimately reducing productivity and decreasing employee morale.
Most micromanagers don’t even realize they are doing anything wrong; their approach hasn’t changed, but their company has. As your company grows, you’ll need to recognize when to start letting go of more responsibility to focus on guiding and growing your business. Recognizing when to delegate is one of the primary skills of managers—and the greatest shortcoming of micromanagers—and it’s the first step to giving your employees the opportunity to excel professionally and help your business flourish.
Signs You May Be a Micromanager
Ultimately, managers who fail to delegate tasks also involve themselves too closely in what should be the responsibility of their staff.
While a micromanager may not feel they are being controlling, there are some sure signs that their perfectionism may be hurting rather than helping. You or a member of your management team may be a micromanager if you engage in any of the following:
- Assigning only tasks administrative in nature, which offer employees little opportunity for growth or learning new skills.
- Spending considerable time demonstrating to employees how to perform a task correctly by specifically telling them exactly what to do.
- Dedicating significant time to supervising your subordinates’ projects (for example, spending more than half of your time overseeing their work, instead of planning your own initiatives or broader goals for the company).
- Being irritated whenever a subordinate makes a decision without first consulting you.
- Assigning tasks, but pulling back responsibility or taking over the project at the first sign of trouble.
- Failing to provide employees with an open framework where they can learn, grow and (most importantly) learn from their mistakes.
- Attempting to carry the weight of underperforming employees by participating in employee projects while simultaneously shouldering managerial responsibilities.
Although this list isn’t exhaustive, these actions frequently stem from a range of management concerns (or insecurities) that are certainly not uncommon. If any of these scenarios sound familiar in your organization, then it’s time to recognize your management problem and create a productive and nurturing—rather than stressful and overly critical—workplace.
Micromanagement: The Drawbacks
All of the aforementioned actions can have damaging effects on office productivity. Not only does it inhibit employee development, but there’s also the danger that employees will attempt to hide mistakes rather than take risks. A manager who punishes mistakes creates a dangerous cycle where employees are afraid to speak up when something is wrong or disagree with an action that doesn’t make sense for the company since it’s easiest and safest to comply with orders.
Perhaps the manager is a stickler for details or is under self-imposed pressure to perform against aggressive goals. Sometimes, the reasons are less noble, such as creating standards that employees are unable to meet and using these examples to terminate an underperforming employee and “set an example.”
Regardless of the reasons, failing to delegate tasks properly and responsibly often results in high employee turnover, longer (and less efficient) workdays and lower work quality. Talented employees feel underappreciated or unrecognized, often leaving the organization for better positions with more room for growth, and less skilled employees fail to develop the right skills to help the company in the long run.
More importantly, for managers working in large matrix organizations, micromanaging also limits their promotional opportunities. Studies show that managers poor at delegating tasks are rarely considered for higher-level positions where the ability to delegate is crucial to success.
How to Delegate Effectively
Ideally, your time as a leader should be spent building relationships with partners, suppliers, clients, board members and investors, developing and implementing business strategy, coordinating projects and hiring staff. As the leader of your organization, it’s your job to solve big problems, not routine matters employees are equipped to handle on their own. It’s no surprise that delegating is cited as one of the most challenging aspects to being a successful supervisor.
Once you’ve identified the micromanagement problem, try the following steps to begin empowering instead of undermining your employees’ performance:
- Use collaborative software or services, such as Excel spreadsheets, Google Drive, Basecamp or Trello, to set assignments, track employee productivity and monitor performance. Being able to observe and prioritize employee progress on goals through collaborative tools like these can help you feel more at ease delegating tasks. Set realistic and previously agreed-upon deadlines for projects that both you and your employees are comfortable with, and allow them to create their own approach to reaching that end goal.
- Feel free to observe and check in on employees’ activities a few times during the day (or during a previously scheduled meeting), but make sure it’s not constantly. Being so closely monitored not only interrupts their workflow, it makes them feel on edge. If you’re checking in on an employee’s progress more than once an hour, make a conscious effort to cut back.
- Make a conscious effort to train employees in new areas, and give them the chance to apply their skills in a project. If doing this makes you nervous, allow them to apply their new abilities to a small task at first, and try to remain hands-off. Learning a new skill is not only satisfying for the employee; it can help you save time in the long run if you are juggling too many tasks and need somebody to handle it.
- Instill employees with a sense of accountability for their work. When you delegate projects, make sure the employees understand that it is no longer your project; you are handing over the torch and expect them to take ownership of their work and full responsibility for the outcome. Emphasizing a deep sense of accountability in employees often inspires them to work harder in order to prove their abilities to both themselves and to you, and it motivates them to try even harder when they fail. This allows you to take a backseat and know that your employee is giving 100%.
The Benefits of Matching Tasks to Workers
Ultimately, delegation is the key to a well-run and successful organization. Making sure the job is done right is important, but trusting your employees to do the job for you is essential. Delegation frees up your time to focus on setting broader goals, building important partnerships and planning company initiatives.
Transitioning from a rigid, hierarchical structure to a more flat, horizontal one will take time. Team members will need to become acclimated to a different management style and feel comfortable taking on responsibility again. Likewise, former micromanagers will need to regain their employees’ trust and confidence.
By matching tasks to workers’ skills and talents as your business expands, you can gain satisfaction from seeing your subordinates grow and develop into leaders themselves. After all, who better to lead your company as it grows than the employees who have been there since the beginning?
Based out of New York City, Bridgette is a technology writer in the higher education sector. Throughout her career, she has written a variety of business publications for organizations ranging from Big Four accounting firms and environmental consultancies, to software and college textbook companies.