Beyond Covid19, we also need a cure for micro-management

Today wrote an article about employees’ worry about going back to the office when we first entered Phase 1 after the circuit breaker.

In it, they cited a receptionist at a small local investment firm being informed by her company’s director to report to the office from 2 June.

The mother of two, who is about seven months’ pregnant with a third, was shocked as she has the understanding that she would be working remotely for the foreseeable future owing to the Covid-19 situation.

Her main job is answering the phone, which she says she can do from home, as the calls are diverted there from the main office.

It is not a surprising example. The wife of a friend had to work in the office during the entire circuit breaker. She is in the finance industry, one that is regarded as essential by the Singapore government.

 Even though the department could operate remotely, the boss personally couldn’t. He wants to go back to the office to work and expects his staff to be in the office as well.



According to Wikipedia, it is a management style whereby a manager closely observes and/or controls and/or reminds the work of his/her subordinates or employees. 

Micromanagement is generally considered to have a negative connotation, mainly because it shows a lack of freedom in the workplace.

Although micromanagement is often easily recognized by employees, micromanagers rarely view themselves as such. 

In a form of denial similar to that found in addictive behaviour, micromanagers will often rebut allegations of micromanagement by offering a competing characterization of their management style such as “structured”, “organized”, or “perfectionistic”.

So for the micromanagers that might be reading this article, how do you exactly know if you are one?

In a Harvard Business Review article by Muriel Maigan Wilkins, he listed down six signs that would show you are a micromanager:

  1. You’re never quite satisfied with deliverables.
  2. You often feel frustrated because you would’ve gone about the task differently.
  3. You laser in on the details and take great pride and /or pain in making corrections.
  4. You constantly want to know where all your team members are and what they’re working on.
  5. You ask for frequent updates on where things stand.
  6. You prefer to be cc’d on emails.

The boss of my friend’s wife scores a 5 out of 6. 


Downside of micromanagement

Research has found that mixing high-stress jobs with micromanagement increases the odds of employees’ early deaths. 

The study from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business looked at how stress and levels of control affected 2,363 employees. 

When comparing highly-demanding jobs, those that also gave employees less control were associated with a 15.4 per cent increased chance of death.

For the rest who remains alive, you become resentful, less loyal, less productive and less willing to give potentially valuable feedback. 

By the end, people avoid talking to their managers or reduce the conversation to a minimum. 

Trust and respect are at rock bottom.

Since the manager cannot be everywhere all the time, micromanaging everyone means you are not letting him do his job. You are doing it for him. Ultimately people stop thinking, try to understand and realize what they are doing.


Remote work is killing micromanagers

Just like a hoarder being asked to Marie Konda, Covid19 is making it worse as remote work simply does not allow a micromanager to function.

Remote work is all about results. And this is where many micromanagers are unable to reconcile.

David Heinmeier Hansson (creator of Ruby on Rails, co-founder & CTO of Basecamp) is a huge advocate of remote work. He co-authored a book ‘Remote: Office Not Required’ that shows both employers and employees how they can work together, remotely, from any desk, in any place, anytime, anywhere.

He pointed out in a recent podcast that managers that struggle to measure results and instead focus on time spent have no place in management. 

Juxtapose that against the 5 signs that you are in a great workplace:

  1. Employees can relate their job to your company’s mission.
  2. You trust employees to make decisions. 
  3. Employees are engaged and eager to help.
  4. Productivity increases.
  5. Employees work well as a team.

Given what we learned about micromanagement, you would very quickly strike off #2 to #4.


Managing a micromanager

Just like I can’t change my mum’s superstitions and religious views, expecting your managers to transform into the manager of the year may be more challenging than getting a vaccine for Covid19.

Having said that, it isn’t entirely impossible. Just like any problems in the world, we have to examine the cause.

The most frequent motivations for micromanagement, such as detail-orientedness, emotional insecurity, and doubts regarding employees’ competence, are internal and related to the personality of the manager. 

In many cases of micromanagement, managers select and implement processes and procedures, not for business reasons but rather to enable themselves to feel useful and valuable and/or create the appearance of being so. 

A frequent cause of such micromanagement patterns is a manager’s perception or fear that they lack the competence and creative capability necessary for their position in the larger corporate structure.

Not every item here can be tackled completely but it could be mitigated to a certain extent

According to an article by Forbes Coaches Council, there are 15 ways to get your boss to stop micromanaging you. 

There are 4 specific ones that I like to highlight. 


1. Understand And Reduce Their Insecurities

Micromanaging is an outgrowth of insecurity. Insecurities occur for various reasons, but it’s your responsibility to discover the root cause and mitigate the issue. Oftentimes, over-communicating your project status, weekly progress and outcomes of meetings will alleviate the issue. Have frequent one-on-ones with your manager and get to understand concerns so you can set them at ease.


2. Ask What You Can Do To Build Trust And Independence

Schedule a meeting with your boss and explain that you’ve noticed their level of involvement. Then, positively note that having greater trust in your capabilities will enable you to achieve even better results. Ask how you can, together, deepen trust and independence. Does your boss need more frequent updates? Do you need to better show your abilities? Talk it through; collaborate on a plan.


3. Ask For Feedback Instead Of Permission

We often invite our leaders to micromanage us. By asking for permission to move forward on decisions or next steps, you make your leader question your decision-making skills and credibility. Instead, keep your leader informed along the way. And, if you need feedback or coaching on an issue, approach your leader with your thought-through plan, and ask for feedback in the areas you’re uncertain.


4. Invite Open Communication

The best way to talk about micromanaging is an open conversation, not a fight. If you are feeling that your leader is micromanaging you, you can start off by being specific: “I would like to handle X on my own, and then check with you after for feedback.” If they continue to micromanage, say, “I feel like you don’t trust me to complete X correctly, and I want to try. Can we talk after?” Be open!

I am a micromanager. What can I do?

In a Harvard Business Review article by Muriel Maignan Wilkins, he details four strategies that could help anyone who wishes to stop micromanaging:

1. Get over yourself

We can all rationalize why we do what we do and the same holds true for micromanagers. 

Here are some common excuses that chronic micromanagers give, and what they really mean:

These excuses lead to a disempowered, demoralized team. 

Instead of finding all the reasons why you should micromanage, consider why you shouldn’t.

2. Let it go

The difference between managing and micromanaging is the focus on the “micro.” 

At the core of moving away from micromanaging is letting go of the minutia. 

This can be hard, but the key is to do it a little at a time. Start by looking at your to-do list to determine what low hanging fruit you can pass on to a team member. 

Engage in explicit discussions with your direct reports about what level of detail you will engage in and where they will need to pull you in. 

You should also highlight the priorities on your list — the big-ticket items where you truly add value — and make sure that is where you are spending most of your energy.

3. Give the “what,” not the “how.” 

There is nothing wrong with having an expectation about a deliverable. 

But there’s a difference between sharing that expectation and dictating how to get to that result. 

Your job as a manager is to clearly set the conditions of satisfaction for any task you assign. 

Articulate what you envision the final outcome to look like, but don’t give blow-by-blow instructions on how to get there. 

When in doubt, share the “what” and ask (rather than tell) your team member about how they plan to get there. 

You might be surprised that their approach, while different, may yield excellent results.

4. Expect to win (most of the time)

Underlying your need to micromanage is a fear of failure. 

By magnifying the risk of failure, your employees engage in “learned helplessness” where they start believing that the only way they can perform is if you micromanage them. 

It’s a vicious cycle. 

Instead, focus on setting your direct reports up for success. 

Be clear on what success looks like. 

Provide the resources, information, and support needed to meet those conditions. 

Give credit where credit is due. 

Over time, you’ll realize that a loss every now and then helps build a strong track record in the long run.

According to Gallup, 75 per cent of the reasons people quit come down to their managers. 

Employers and employees suffer when attrition happens since that stops the growth of your human asset in the environment. And time is spent to hire someone to start all over again. 

By fixing prevailing micromanagement, you are ultimately ensuring better continuity in business and career. 

And it may become like what the late Bill Walsh, the American football coach who won 3 SuperBowl championships, profess in his book. 

When you take care of the day-to-day, the “The Score Will Take Care of Itself” (also the title of his book).

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