Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Micromanagement on a Macro Scale

Over the last year or so I have conducted some research about micromanagement and found some interesting articles ranging from really bad advice to some excellent tactics to help workers through their situations. I will give you the short of what I thought was useful.

Webster's Dictionary defines micromanagement as: "to manage with great or excessive control, or attention to details." I of course have to reference the TV show The Office, micromanagement was defined by Michael Scott as "management on a more personal level," also known as 'microgement.' A way of categorizing micromanagement is with the phrase "The more you use the reins, the less they use their brains" causing disempowerment and retarding growth. Myra McElhaney, a corporate trainer and consultant, said that micromanagers deprive workers of the opportunity to learn through their mistakes. Most of us have experienced micromanagement at some point, at home, work, church etc. It really does boil down to personality differences and need for control. Micromanagement can truly be based in fear of failing, looking bad etc. Based on learning styles and personality, some of us can handle it more easily, and some of us can't. Here are some useful tips and a funny graph…

If You Have to Report to a Micromanager:

Five strategies for change By Laura Raines For ajcjobs
1. Find the boss's good qualities.
When someone doesn't trust you to make your own decisions, it clouds how you think about him or her. Thinking of your boss as an ogre, dictator or drill sergeant may blind you to some of his or her good qualities.

"You first have to separate the behavior from the person," McElhaney said. "It doesn't work to confront your boss by telling her she's a micromanager. Identify specifically what the person is doing that frustrates you." Is it the structuring of your workday, the time-consuming reports that you have to fill out, the pointless meetings, or his or her insistence on being copied on every e-mail or document?

By separating the behavior from the person, you might find that you respect your boss's position, hard work or experience, despite the micromanaging. That could be a place to start to build a better relationship and trust.

2. Be deliberate and thoughtful in reacting to your boss's behavior.
"It may be tempting to get even by sabotaging your boss. Maybe you'll decide not to do your best work, not tell him key pieces of information or treat him rudely," McElhaney said. "That usually reflects on you more than on him and could backfire.

"Approach his behavior professionally, with honesty and politeness. Treat him as you want to be treated. That comes from being deliberate and thoughtful about your actions, not just reacting to his. Hard work and professionalism could be noticed by others."

"By choosing to be responsible, reliable and true to your word, you can build trust and change behavior," Smart said.

For example, an office manager worked for a doctor who constantly was interfering with administrative tasks and getting the staff stirred up. Realizing that her boss had high standards and was afraid that everything wouldn't get done, she took a proactive approach to allay his fears. She suggested a Friday afternoon meeting to review the running of the office. In 30 minutes, they would review the completed week and preview the upcoming workweek.

"By [her] establishing an open communication, he felt informed about operations without having to be involved in everything that went on. He was more comfortable and less fearful about letting her do her job," Smart said.

3. Understand and adapt to the boss's behavioral style.
Not everyone works the same way. "One assistant had a boss who was creative, spontaneous and not a morning person. The assistant was task-oriented, consistent and liked to come in early, but she had to leave work on time in the afternoon in order to catch her train home," McElhaney said.

Inevitably, the boss would come up with new ideas or projects late in the afternoon and would make her assistant miss the train.

"[The assistant] began asking her boss if there was anything she needed to do an hour before quitting time. If it was more than she could finish, she assured her boss that she would be in early the next morning and would it get it done by the time the boss arrived. Her strategy helped balance their work styles and retrained her boss not to call for help at the last minute," McElhaney said. "Adapting to someone else's needs goes against the grain of some people, but it's easier if you focus on the goal you want to achieve."

4. Identify the boss's objectives and calm his or her fears.
"Put yourself in your boss's shoes and ask yourself two questions: 'What does he desire?' and 'what does he fear?' " McElhaney said.

If your boss wants to look good to his or her boss and wants the work to be done correctly, then focus on accuracy in your work. Check back early with updates. Assure him or her that you understand the importance of the work and that it needs to be right.

"Show him that you can be an ally in reaching his goals and not a potential problem," she added.

"Keep in mind that micromanaging can be in the eye of the beholder," Smart said. "Some personality types want to be left alone to work, while others appreciate having direction and their boss involved. They don't want full responsibility."

While one person sees someone breathing down his or her neck, another sees a boss who cares. There's a fine line between mentoring and micromanaging. Before you address the issue with your boss, take a close look at the quality of your work and whether the micromanaging is teaching you important skills or keeping you from making costly mistakes.

5. Know when to get assertive -- and when to call it quits.
"If the situation is making you miserable, then it's time for an assertive conversation with your boss," McElhaney said.

She describes "assertive" using the image of children drawing pretend playhouses in the dirt. Playmates will step over the lines to visit someone else's house, because stepping on the lines makes them disappear.

" 'Aggressive' is someone who steps all over your lines," she said. " 'Passive' is allowing someone to step on your lines, but 'assertive' is protecting your boundaries, while at the same time respecting the boundaries of others."

McElhaney suggests that employees use a behavior, effect, feelings/thoughts and results model for an assertive conversation. First, state the behavior you think is excessive, such as double-checking all your work, she said. Describe the effect: It costs both the employee and boss time -- time that he or she could spend effectively managing higher tasks. Tell him or her how it makes you feel, such as like a child or as though he or she has no respect for your abilities. Then present the result you would like: "Could we handle this differently in the future? How about if I do the work, and you give me feedback on the final product?"

The behavior may not change. There are dysfunctional and incompetent bosses who have no interest in learning new skills. If nothing happens, you can wait for the boss to move on, ask for a transfer or look for a new job.

"If you've given it your best shot, and nothing happens, chalk it up to a bad environment for you," Smart said. You'll be happier and more productive somewhere else.

Something that I can suggest as well is to try and emotionally separate yourself from your work. Especially if you HAVE to keep the job you are in. Write down why you are working, what is really important to you and keep that at the top of your head when a micromanager is getting to you. They don't matter, but your list does. When we have bigger and better reasons for working through something we don't like, it is a comfort to know that those you love (or whatever reason) benefit from all your hard work. Also, another way to work through it is use your skills elsewhere. Join a group or start a project where you can use your passions and motivation. If you can't do it at work, you really need to use it out of work to stay afloat and keep learning.

Stay above the stress by using stress management techniques. Take a deep breath. Picture your absolute perfect scene. Stretch your neck and arms. Listen to some powerful visualization sessions. These are things that the micromanager can't tell you how to do, and can't "touch."

Uh oh… Am I a Micromanager?

No micromanager would ever think that they are micromanaging. Everyone should take this test.

Are you a micromanager?
From Brain Death by Micromanagement

If you demonstrate any of these seemingly admirable qualities, there's a big clue that you might be making zombies.

1) Do you pride yourself on being "on top of" the projects or your direct reports? Do you have a solid grasp of the details of every project?

2) Do you believe that you could perform most of the tasks of your direct reports, and potentially do a better job?

3) Do you pride yourself on frequent communication with your employees? Does that communication include asking them for detailed status reports and updates?

3) Do you believe that being a manager means that you have more knowledge and skills than your employees, and thus are better equipped to make decisions?

4) Do you believe that you care about things (quality, deadlines, etc.) more than your employees?

Answering even a weak "yes" to any one of these might mean you either are--or are in danger of becoming--a micromanager.

What can you do if you are a micromanager?
Admit it, and deal with the two driving forces: concern for quality, and need for speed. Invest in the time and training to give your employees whatever they need to make the decisions or complete the tasks you find yourself needing (or wanting) to do. And if caring is the big concern, well, you get what you create. If you treat employees like zombies, then zombies is exactly what you'll get. Sometimes all it takes is giving people a chance to develop more skill and knowledge, the space to use their brains, and a worthwhile challenge. Let your employees fail if they need to. Most people learn by doing, not by being told exactly what to do.

The Macro of Micromanagement
Unfortunately 79% of workers will experience this at some point in their careers. For some it will be debilitating and others it will be minor and easier to deal with. Either way, I'm sending my vibes of strength your way. The bottom line is that we all have choices, whether it is in how we choose to react or even leave the job, we can choose what we do about it. Choice is something, my friends, that can't be micromanaged.